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 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.


Randori rules

Randori rules for competition

In judo we grapple the opponent by catching the lapel and sleeve, while trying to throw the opponent down by breaking his balance. We can only use throwing techniques, as dangerous techniques such as striking or kicking are prohibited. In aikido we hold the hand, wrist, arm, limbs or body directly instead of the clothing and throw him down. On the assumption that “dangerous” attacks are delivered, body avoidance becomes necessary, so ideally techniques should be performed the moment one touches the opponent. What is suitable against dangerous attacks are the instant techniques of “atemiwaza’ and “kansetsuwaza”. Judo is mainly composed of “nagewaza” or throwing techniques, and “katamewaza’ or locking techniques. In contrast, aikido is mainly composed of “atemiwaza” or attacking techniques and “kansetsuwaza’ or joint techniques. What is common in both judo and aikido is that one tries to break the opponent’s balance thereby throwing or controlling him.


Toshu randori rules: updated rules toshu randori august 2018

Tanto randori rules: tanto randori rulesbook

Training tips by JAA : Aiki Toshu-Randori Practice Method