Coiling power and Aikido

Tenshikei 纏絲勁 is a Japanese term for a Chinese martial arts term Chán sī jìn. “Tenshi” commonly refers to Silk-reeling in traditional styles such as Taijiquan (太極拳).

Coiling power is the result of specialized training method to improve “Elastic Potential Energy”.
Tenshikei is the basic idea of a training method to store energy in the body.

We consider 2 basic forms of energy:

  • Energy generated by muscle action and converts in muscle power useful for creating momentum and leverage
  • Energy stored into the ligaments, tendons and fascia usefull for converting into kinetic potential energy

Elastic energy

Elastic potential energy is stored in ligaments, tendons and fascia and is the result of 2 possible actions of the body

  • the action of compressing and releasing of a springlike movement
  • the action of drawing a bow and shooting an arrow movement

How to use elastic potential energy

We will use drawing a bow and shooting an arrow as an example to explain the converting from eleastic potential energy to the power at the target.
The power must first be stored up by by pulling the bowstring. The energy stored in the archer’s bow represents elastic potential energy. When the bowstring is released, this stored elastic potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, which is then transferred into the arrow, propelling it into flight.

The human body and the archer’sbow

The human body can function like a bow. If there is no string, the body has no inherent power. By dropping for example the body weight into the hara, we create the same as adding a string to the bow.
A body rotation acts as pulling the string of a bow. Rotation is a movement without displacement of space. It signifies a movement without displacement.

Rather than treating the body as one large bow, you must realize that we could compartmentalize the body into multiple smaller bows. A leg can be considered as a bow, the same applies for the arms. And we cannot forget our spine which can act as a large bow.

The characteritics of an archer’s bow
The “back” of a bow, the part that faces a target, is stretched or pulled away from itself. The “belly” of a bow, facing the person shooting it, is pushed together. Not to forget the ever important neutral axis, this runs longways through the bow from tip to tip, it has the job of keeping tension and compression separated. When a bow is unstrung, it is basically like a stick, it has yin and yang in it, but they are not seperated until it is strung. When you put it under tension, by restricting the two ends, it is in a dynamic separated state. If it is well made, the forces of tension and compression will be balanced, and therefore power is maximised.
When pulling the string extra energy is added to the bow. When releasing the string, the stored energy is transferred into the arrow.

Ko-mawari, using compressive force

The exercise emphasizes the rotation of the body and the use of the legs as a compression force. The compressive force is generated by pushing down the koshi in the direction of the foot. The knee has no active role to play, however it is not held in a fixed or rigid position.

Research and Kenji Tomiki

Sometimes, people blame me not to follow the traditional methods of my teachers. In fact, they are shortsighted and they cannot see through the movements and see the basics supplemented by methods to improve efficiency.

Kenji Tomiki created some basic methods derived from Morihei Ueshiba’s art and asked his students and followers to do more research to develop an effective Aiki-randori method.
This research is definitely a key activity for Tomiki Aikido instructors. Of course we have to cherish the work of Kenji Tomiki, but we have to keep in mind that the method was and is still not complete.

Warming-up

The moment you put your foot in the tatami, your training begins. Generally, training begins to warm-up. The concepts of Aikido are integrated in the warming-up exercises explained in this blog.

Body-turning warming up can be used to integrate the “tenshikei-concept”. The upperbody is turning on the bottom of the pelvis. The turning has a diagonal direction. The legs are neither static of dynamic, the movement os the legs is the result of the body turning.


Unsoku-ho – footwork

The are various methods of footwork and the most basic are:

  • Ayumi ashi – alternate stepping
  • Tsuri ashi – sliding feet
  • Tsugi ashi – shuffle
  • De-mawari – forward stepping and turning
  • Hiki-mawari – backward stepping and turning

Step forward and backward with weight displacement and body rotation.

De-mawari and hiki-mawari

Tsugi ashi and basics

Posture and footwork

Essentially, “Mushin Mugamae”* is adopted at the outset of a confrontation. During the confrontation, different situations may arise and require different postures and different footwork.

We may go forward and back in a straight line or we may use a zigzag pattern.
The straight line will be used especially in the absence of physical contact. The zigzag line method will be used mainly during physical contact.

*mushin mugamae

Bodyweight shift

Shizentai is an essential posture to begin with.
Body weight can be moved left or right. Keep the centre line to the opponent’s centre.

At times we may put the two feet parallel when adopting a posture in randori.
When moving the body weight, hold the center line towards the opponent.

To move the body weight, we need to lower our body weight center by releasing the tension in the groin area. The area of the groin in the body is where the upper thighs meet the lower abdominal area. By releasing tension, we create a rounded crotch that is necessary to shift body weight without losing balance.

Body turning and Tenshikei

During Aikido training, body turn is frequently used to avoid an incoming attack. But body turn is more than avoiding an attack, it can be used to improve your power used during a confrontation.
Important is the correct timing when using body turn.
Another important item in body turn is the use of the “koshi”.

Koshi
All good martial techniques arise from the Koshi 腰.
The ideograph is read in Chinese like Yao and into Japanese like Yo or Koshi. In martial arts literature, Koshi/Yo* is typically translated as “hips” and Yao as “waist.” Those translations are incomplete and deceiving.

*koshi / yo =waist, hips – 腰部-Yōbu= pelvis, pelvic region, hips, loins, waist

A good place to start is not trying to translate these words in your native language. Any translation will inevitably lead to a restriction of our comprehension.

Tenshikei
Turning body does not always create “tenshikei” or “coiling power”. To coil is to circle around a point, area or axis using a spiraling motion.


Tenshikai is explained by Akira Hino, a Japanese Budo researcher as follows:
To explain Tenshikei, I’ll give a metaphor of a rifle. Think of it as having the same mechanism as a rifle. Your body is the rifle barrel, and Tenshikei is the spiral grooves cut in the inner surface of the gun barrel. The spiral grooves create a longer distance for a bullet to travel, and by gaining frictional resistance during the travel, the bullet increases its force and precision.
Hino , Akira . Don’t Think, Listen to the Body!: Introduction to the Hino Method and Theory of human body and movement control (p. 97).

Coiling power is not easy to generate. A great deal of training is needed on how to use the flexibility qualities of the body. The arms and shoulders are just used to transport the power to the target. Fundamentally, they are not used to generate power.

Aikido waza

Step, shift and turn

Fundamentally, when practising techniques, we will perform a step, followed by body weight shifting and finishing with body turning.
In Tomiki’s Basic 17 Kata, “step,shift and turn” is often used to perform waza from the tegatana awase distance.

Of course, it is possible to practise bodyweight shift and bodyturn with a partner without stepping. But in most of the cases, we need some stepping to finish with a technique.

You can find a few examples from Hideo Ohba and Itsuo Haba in the next video clip – Yawara Dojo 1978.

Koshi mawari and basics

Integration of koshi mawari is necessary to generate coiling power. There are several ways to enhance koshi mawari and tenshikei.
Solo exercises as mentioned above in this article are the first steps when you like to enhance the effectiveness of your basic techniques.

Kote gaeshi

Kote mawashi

Aikido waza within the framework of Randori

Before you can get into randori, you need to learn how to apply techniques when the situation occurs.
It’s a pretty unique concept in Tomiki Aikido to do randori where we put Aikido waza against Aikido waza. The goal is to use Aikido concepts in a randori setting.
Of course, you must have a basic skill set.

Pause as a moving factor

Conscious and unconscious movement

Moving around is part of the most enjoyable activities in humans life and when our movements stop, our life is also stopping. But sometimes we need a rest, sleeping, relaxing, ….. Taking a rest or relaxing is part of our movement and at first sight there is no outward movement. It is no wonder to find out there is a lot of movement inside. These movements are unconscious movements. Our consciousness has no control.
Conscious internal movements concern mostly musculoskeletal alignment and connectedness. They are in many cases not visible externally.
During human moving activities, a pause is often used to give a dramatic performance. Pause is a part of a movement or performance.
The conscious brain is reacting to action or pause with a delayed time. This can be utilized to change strategy or movement (switch) during martial arts performance.

0.5 seconds for the mind to recognise what has occurred

Benjamin Libet states in his book, “Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness (Perspectives in Cognitive Neuroscience),” that it takes 0.5 seconds for the mind to recognise what has occurred.

Benjamin Libet is known worldwide for the experiments he has conducted over a long career (his first experiences date back to 1957-1958) on how the human brain produces conscious awareness.
The brain will have a recognisable sensation coming from the skin or some other body structure only if the stimulus continues for at least 500 msec: shorter durations do not elicit any awareness of the sensation.
There is an actual delay of 500 msec for sensory awareness even when the sensation is generated by a single pulse applied to normal sources at the skin.

Pause, a part of our movements

During switching of movements, we need a pause to reset our muscles. Resetting the muscles is changing the tone, or in other words “more or lesser tension” to create a better efficiency movement.
Switching without detection by the opponent is only possible if we can perform this during the 0,5sec mentioned earlier.
We can make the delay longer by using “kuzushi”. This situation sets up a pause in the defense against an attack. Regaining stability is triggered by some survival instinct and will take over the actions learned during martial arts training.
Basically, kuzushi is a kind of switch with hakkei or sudden power. When practising kuzushi slowly and with bigger movements, we cannot consider this as a part of the strategy to make opponents “brain delay” longer.

Pause, an educational tool

This kind of pause is longer than the pause during movements. Practitioners without experience need some time to make decisions how to do a movement. By integrating “pause” into movement sequences, the brain will detect the changes in the sequences and make the appropriate adjustments.
Most of the “kuzushi” demonstrations use such a method to make clear the mechanism of kuzushi. This is an artificial situation, and will always fail in “randori” because it is going beyond the delayed time.

Different types of training

Solo-training

Solo-training is an integral part of a martial art training program. Solo-training is a simple method to introduce martial art movements. There is a perception of “no-resistance”, but this is a delusion. Beginners are not aware of gravity or excessive tension. When we discover gravity and relaxation, partner training is the next step. Nevertheless, keep in your mind: There is relaxation in tension – there is tension in relaxation.
Solo-training start with big movements and done slowly. Remember, we need time to recognize what is happening.
After some time, we can start to make the movements smaller and eventually faster, but not fast.
When you can observe your movements without making any comments in your head, it is time to start to partner exercises.
From a practical view on how to keep students or trainees enthusiastic, sotai dosa or partner exercises are introduced before proper body movements are ingrained. But avoid “tanren” training.

Practical training concepts
Practical concepts depends largerly on ingrained basics in the subconscious mind. Mostly these ingrained concepts will be tested during all kinds of randori, ranging from kakari geiko through hikitate geiko to randori geiko.
During basic training, the concept of pause is mostly considered as an educational tool.
Pause as a practical tool during randori is build upon the skill of relaxation/tension and diverse strategy concepts.

Sensitivity training

Training with a partner, trainer or teacher should led trainee to follow by “sticking” at the contact points and learns to listen (chokei in Hino Budo terms).

Resistance training

Sensitivity training with light resistance. Testing the body/mind integrity of the trainees. Cultivating internal muscoskeletal alignment and connectedness. Using sufficient force (tension) to overcome resistance.

There must be relaxation within tension and tension within relaxation/tension exchange. Avoid rigidity and stiffness.

Technical training

Solo-training of basic movements is an entry to ingrain whole-body neuromuscular movements. Mind-body control is necessary to obtain coordinated whole-body neuromuscular movement.
Partner training has to be seen as an extension of solo-training

Randori training

Randori training is an exercise with a build-in unknown factor. Timing, distance or interval, speed….are unknown factors. Starting with low-intensity resistance and adding proportionally unknown factors cannot emphasized enough. When we start too soon with “hakkei” or sudden power, succes in randori will be far away.

Tanren – The art of repetition

Do not cultivate sequential patterns of response as a solution to the problems of fighting. If you use conscious procedural thinking (sequential processing) to observe, analyze, and then react, you will lose most of your hand-to-hand encounters or confrontations. You cannot predict/anticipate when and from where an attack is coming, and then take appropriate action.
Therefore, instead of wasting time and energy memorizing sequential patterns of movements also called “kata choreography”, let your sub-conscious reflexes automatically execute the proper actions at the proper time without conscious mind- intent.

Kata performed as ‘Tanren’, or repetitive slow drilling is highly regarded as a method of power building

The art of repetition

quote by Akira Hino

You cannot really learn and understand the meaning by copying something over and over just because someone told you that there is a significance in doing so.
There is a fine line there… between a genuine motivation to learn and just an intellectual amusement.
If you think the meaning of repetition is just a piece of knowledge given by somebody else. You will not able to learn anything worthwhile on your own.

Kata must be simple if we like to use it as Tanren. If kata is too complicated it will be a waste of time. It is better to practise 1 or 2 linked movements with low resitance at slow speed. The mind need time to listen to the body and absorb the principle or concept behind the movement(s).
For example during static postures in standing meditation (ritsuzen) isometric activity of the major leg muscles is a motionless movement to practise drilling the feet to generate power with the support of the floor.
Dynamic examples can be found in koryu no kata. Some kata are complicated sequences and are build upon linking simple basic movements.
Of course, kata training offers more than power building exercises.

Something to take into consideration

The Relative Tempo of Techniques: some techniques are performed quickly, while others are done more slowly. Tempo can be so slow that there is no visible external movement, it is a pause in the external movement.

The Relative Force of Power: The power of a technique derives from the proper balance between strength and relaxation. Power is a balance between ju (soft/strong) and go (hard/strong). Power can be dynamic (ido ryoku) but also static (isometric tension). Isometric tension has no visible external movement, it is a pause in the external movement.

The Control of Breathing: The correct timing during breathing (inhaling and exhaling). After inhaling we need sometimes a pause, to have a better absorbtion of the oxygen. This is a pause in the breathing.

By using these 3 concepts and through concentration, dedication and practice, a higher level of power skills may be achieved, where the movements are so ingrained in the subconscious mind that no conscious attention is needed.  This is what we call Mushin 無心, or “no mind.” The conscious, rational thought practice is not used at all – what was once memorized is now spontaneous.

Tanren, forging the body/spirit

The techniques themselves do not matter, which is important are the universal principles applicable to all techniques, regardless of the art practiced

Sometimes you will find the word “tanren” in an article about martial arts. Mostly it is translated as “forging the body and/or the spirit”.
To give it a more practical idea:

Tanren kihon are exercises for “forging and polishing” motor skills and physics in order to use the bio-mechanics of the martial art.

We commented already on the practise of tanren in another blog article

Tanren in Budo Aikido and Kyogi Aikido

We have to consider the differences between

  • Budo Aikido (Aikido as a martial art)
  • Kyogi Aikido (Aikido as a martial sport)

In the context of “Study Group Tomiki Aikido” the emphasis will be on Budo Aikido. However, we can consider Tomiki Aikido as a hybrid method. Young people start with the emphasis on the sporting side, older people are more attracted by the Budo aspect.

Is there a difference in approach between Budo Aikido and Kyogi Aikido?
Basically there is not any difference in the case of body movements. The difference is in the strategy how to utilize the body movements.

Tanren-gata and shinken-gata

In some martial arts, the terms tanren-gata and shinken-gata are used to indicate the difference between a kata to improve body movements and a combat oriented kata.

In judo, for example, kime-no-kata is a combat oriented kata. In the past, another name was used for this kata : “shinken shobu no kata”.
Tomiki Aikido kata/katachi can also be classified as tanren-gata or shinken-kata.

Most of the basic kata (basic15, basic17, tanto basic17, ura-waza……..) can be classified as a tanren-gata. A formalised series of movements or techniques using basic criterion:

  • Jibun no tsukuri – preparing yourself to attack
  • Aite no tsukuri – preparing the opponent to receive the attack
  • Kake – the attacking or decisive (kime) movement & technique

The purpose is to study and implement the movements of the elementary techniques into the brain. The efficiency of these technical movements will be further refined and become useful with adequate randori training.

Of course, other criterion can be used. Kuzushi (balance disturbing) for example is one of the criteria which are often used to create an efficient attack. In this case we can mention 7-hon no kuzushi omote & ura. As usual there many interpretations of these exercises. Use the skill of creativity to create your own 7-hon no kuzushi. Maybe there are more kinds of kuzushi. Aikido is a living art.

Another criterion is about how to use power in our movements. In Kyogi Aikido &Budo Aikido the correct use of power (taiju no ido-momentum & tenshikei-rotational power) is necessary when doing randori (training or shiai) and kata/katachi training. There are many exercises to develop these kind of power, and in combination with “correct” randori training, techniques will become more alive. Of course you only can start with randori geiko when you have a certain level in subconscious understanding of basic movements and techniques.

senta yamada's syllabus.pdfBasic kata

There are many versions of basic kata – see katachi or kata

Basic 15 was one of the first attempts to codify techniques for randori by grouping them into sections.   In a grading syllabus compiled by Senta Yamada, he speaks about basic technique performed in kata style. In another document, he mentioned “kihon no katachi”, 20 basic techniques.
In the early days of Tomiki Aikido, basic technique was performed from a posture with a small separation between Tori and Uke. Breaking the posture of Uke was the first action of Tori – see breaking through kamae -.

tomiki100yrs 018A question here is “do we use chudan no kamae” in a fight? It is an almost a utopian vision of the art of fighting if we stick to the image of Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba. It is a good “starting point” to study elementary techniques.
We can conclude, basic kata is not really shinken-gata but a form of  tanren-gata. We learn body movements by using tegatana, tai-sabaka (without a real attack) and a basic technique. If chudan no kamae is so important, why is it not frequently included into Koryu no kata?

Koryu no kata

There are 6 koryu no kata with each a different purpose. The origin of some koryu no kata can be found in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu or other Japanese martial arts like Kito Ryu or Ryōi Shintō-ryū. Besides many tai-jutsu waza (unarmed skills) some weapon skills are incorporated into koryu no kata. The weapon skills can vary depending on the weapon school of the principal instructor (shihan).

Some part of the koryu no kata can be seen as shinken-gata. There is a dangerous attack with an appropriate defensive action.
Other parts of the koryu no kata cannot be catalogued as a shinken-gata. Take for example koryu no kata dai yon, section 1 & 2. The approach is not very combat oriented. It is about an almost abstract view on kuzushi.

Koryu no kata dai yon

jodanaigamae 6Kuzushi has a lot of interpretations. It can be a something where the body is collapsing, or it is a method to fix or freeze the opponent.
Koryu no kata dai yon section 1 has 7 methods to freeze an opponent during a split of a second. It is called 7-hon no kuzushi. In the kata is a omote version and a ura version. The 3rd section is more combat oriented with a strong emphasis on kuzushi. This creates an almost artificial view on combat techniques.
Besides the different aspect of kuzushi in an omote or ura fashion, there is also an interesting part in the role of uke : ukemi-gata.
Ukemi is strongly related to the action of tori. Without a proper action of tori, ukemi becomes a kind of show action: a delusion. During embu competitions, this delusion is often demonstrated. Uke is jumping in a “big ukemi” before the power of Tori is reaching the target, and sometimes you will notice a lack of power with Tori and still Uke is doing this big and silly ukemi. It is not the action which is a delusion, but it is the thinking you can do it perfectly and having the power to throw everybody.

Another aspect in 7-hon no kuzushi is the possibility to use chudan no kamae or other forms of kamae when performing different kinds of kuzushi. Maybe we can see these movements as a kind of exercise when the opponent is using a grasping attack to the wrist when we are adopting chudan no kamae. In basic kata, grasping is used as an aite no tsukuri.

Of course, there is the question: Is koryu no kata dai yon a tanren-gata or shinken-gata?

History of Koryu no kata

Takeshi Inoue the autor of a book on Koryu no kata, who knows in detail the background of the creation of the Koryu no kata wrote:

In about 1958, we practiced mainly the unsoku, tandoku undo, yonhon no kuzushi (a former version of the nanahon no kuzushi/7-hon no kuzushi) as well as the jugohon no kata (basic15 kata). In around 1960, the junanahon no kata ( basic17 kata) and the roppon no kuzushi/6-hon no kuzushi were created and then the dai-san no kata was devised as a kata of classical techniques. During the mid-60 Ohba Sensei and others worked on the creation of the kata forms of the dai-ichi (first) to dai-roku (sixth), which we practice as the koryu no kata, in order to work on techniques for demonstrations and for purposes other than randori. What Ohba Sensei particularly stressed in formulating these kata was the organization of different techniques in such a way that students could learn connections between techniques easily and naturally. After he had organized the techniques to some extent, Ohba Sensei reported to Tomiki Sensei and demonstrated what he had done for him. He received some advice from Tomiki Sensei and then added corrections to the kata. (“Bujin Hideo Ohba,” Kyogi Aikido Soseiki no Ayumi; Ohba Hideo Sensei o Shinobu, p. 67)

Koryu no kata is not for shiai

Some of koryu no kata can be catalogued as a shinken-gata or combat kata. Mostly there is a dangerous attack and an efficient defensive technique.
To create an efficient defensive technique, the attack must be dangerous. Is the attack really dangerous or is it fake? Is the attack a sole attempt without a further follow-up by another dangerous attack?

In Kodokan Judo, there was an attempt to introduce efficient “atemi”. This was called “Seiryoku zen’yo kokumin taiku, a kata for studying proper atemi. In aikido, there are several attempts to introduce proper atemi into the art. Mochizuki sensei used some karate to refine the art of atemi in his Yoseikan Aikido or Budo.

Tomiki Aikido is using atemi waza as an attack to throw the opponent without clashing with the power and body structure. But from the point of view of combat, the target of the atemi has to be a physiological weak spot of the body, while the atemi waza of Kenji Tomiki is used as an attack to a weak dynamical point of the body. Tomiki’s atemi waza are very safe in randori and shiai, but koryu no kata is not randori.

Since years we can see the influence of shiai oriented randori in the use of atemi waza in Koryu no kata. While originally a Shinken-gata, Koryu no kata became a Kyogi Aikido kata. The decline of efficiency in koryu no kata is inevitable when this process is not stopped. A study is necessary to create a training method to bring back the efficiency of atemi on physiological weak spots. In this case we must consider:

  • the target
  • the weapon (fist, edge of the hand, foot,……)
  • how to use and control power – hakkei

tad abe book

Atemi waza is covered in Tadashi Abe’s book. He considers atemi waza an extremely important technique in aikido.

In many koryu jujutsu schools of Japan, the skill of atemi is an important item in their syllabus. For example, Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu one of the origins of Kodokan Judo was well-known for atemi waza.

By using the basic criterion, explained earlier, and the correct method for atemi (target, weapon & power) we can revive koryu no kata back as a shinken-gata. But as we don’t want to hurt people controlling the use of power is a feature to include in our training. Therefore the methods of randori can be included to learn control without losing efficiency in our body movements.

Randori

“Randori practise is something that is done to give life to the real power of those techniques that were learned through kata. That is to say, randori provides the power to complete a painted dragon by filling in the eyes.”

This phrase comes from an article written by Kenji Tomiki. In the same article he wrote about the need of doing kata training to avoid the deterioration of Aikido. Unfortunately the influence of randori and especially randori shiai has a big impact on the efficiency of koryu no kata as a shinken-gata.

Although it seems Kenji Tomiki favoured atemi waza as a kind of throwing technique, he still insisted on the use of atemi waza as a combat method (shinken-gata), but he stressed to regulate the use of such severe methods of atemi waza. To regulate such methods and avoiding accidents during training, he recommended kata training method.

Randori training has 3 levels:

  • Kakari geiko
  • Hikitate geiko
  • Randori geiko

These methods will be discussed in a separate blog article published later.