Nothing in the world is absolute, that is the principle
Translating Ri 理 is not an easy task. Of course, if we search in the dictionary, we find: logic, reason, justice, truth … principle.
Martial arts are founded on many principles. Unfortunately, by using the word “principle” the perception of the principle becomes a rigid one. Perhaps we can use a clearer expression: Guiding Principles – Qualities or characteristics that function as a norm of behavior within the framework of human behavior.
Ju (柔) is flexibility and adaptability, but also strength…..a paradox?Anonymus
Martial Art Guiding Principles
Martial arts can be viewed as a form of human behaviour and need guidelines to create an effective system free of aggressive impulses to harm your training partner.
Martial arts may be practiced as a form of learning self-defense or as a method for surviving an aggressive encounter with an attacker. Of course, the goal of your training in a martial art may vary, and the training method will vary accordingly.
Classical Bujutsu or Budō and martial arts with a competitive format (Judō, Kendō, Karate-dō, Tomiki Aikidō …..) need guiding principles to create order in chaos. Even MMA uses certain guidelines to ensure effective performance.
If you see “principle” further in the text, please remember to read it as “guiding principle”.
Flexibility and adaptability as a strength component
Flexibility and adaptability are necessary to apply the principles in your training. Jigoro Kan saw “Ju” or “flexibility and adaptability” as the main principle of Judō and also as the core value.
Because Ju no Ri is about flexibility and adaptability, it gives sometimes a paradoxical feeling to Western people. The paradox is in the interpretation of Ju no ri. Ju (柔) is translated as flexibility, but there is also a component of strength.
Easterners tend to be more open to paradoxical thinking, they believe that it’s normal to meet contradictions. However, westerners are the opposite, they are strict with logic and rule-based thinking.
The difference can be seen during training , Western people are more focused on understanding before doing while Eastern are focused on doing before understanding.
If you examine the meaning of Riai, you will find the word “Rihō in addition to “Riai”. The word Rihō is mostly found in texts about kenjutsu (Kendo, Iaido, Jodo,….)
Why using the word Rihō in the context of Aikido? Aikido movements are said to have risen from the RI of kenjutsu Japanese swordsmanship.
For martial arts, Riho is said to mean ” rules (guiding principles) necessary to learn and practice the technique “.
Aikido according to Kenji Tomiki.
Aikido (or Aiki randori) according to Kenji Tomiki should be seen as a form of training for atemi waza and kansetsu waza. It may be taught as a second method of training in Kodokan Judo. Tomiki used the principle of Judō to explain the use of the techniques taught by Morihei Ueshiba, especially atemi waza and kansetsu waza.
Aiki means making your spirit “fit in “with your opponent’s. In other words it means bringing your movements into accord with your opponent’s. After all it means the same thing as the “principle of gentleness” for it is an explanation fo the princle from within.Kenji Tomiki – Judo and Aikido
Principles (RI-理) of Judō
JU NO RI – The Principle of ‘gentleness,’ ‘flexibility’ or ‘adaptability.’
In “The Illustrated Kodokan Judō” (1955) published by Kodansha we can read about Kodokan Judō “Elevation of an art to a principle”.
Judō uses the maxim of the maximum-efficient-use of mind and body. The major property attributed to Judō is explained in a general way by the principle of JU.
Kenji Tomiki goes much deeper in the formulation of the Ju principle. For him, the main Judō principle can be divided into 3 sub-principles. Those sub-principles can also further divided into more specific principles.
- The principle of natural body (shizentai no ri), which concerns posture. This is a natural, unrestricted posture from which it is possible to attack and defend, adapting to any kind of assault.
- Initiative or Lead (Sen)
- The principle of gentleness (ju no ri), which concerns the position of defense. It says, do not oppose the offensive power of any kind of antagonist with force. Rather, render that force ineffective by moving your body out of the way (taisabaki).
- Viewed from the relation of force
- Viewed from the relation of movement
- The principle of breaking balance (kuzushi no ri), which concerns the position of attack. This says to go and build a chance of winning by taking advantage of the breaking of your opponent’s balance or by adhering to his body.
- Stability of standing man
- Breaking balance in 8 directions
Kata, Kokoro and Ri
Kata should be meant to aim at acquiring the ri or principles by practicing kata movement to the point the ri or principles becomes part of yourself. Therefore, the significance of learning kata lies not only in learning each “form” of technique but in learning and acquiring the ri or principles of each technique.
The principles cited by Kenji Tomiki (and others) may be seen from a physical and mechanical perspective. This is the first level of learning the “RI” or “Guiding Principles” from the kata. There is not yet understanding, only a copy of the movements.
The next level is the assimilation of the technical content in the mind, and here it becomes somewhat confusing. If your entire body is not involved (physical, mental and spiritual), the outcome will always be on a purely physical and mechanical level. When you read texts about Japanese martial arts, you will encounter the word “kokoro 心” and it is mostly translated as “heart”. Alternative words like “mind” or “spirit” are used. Therefore, you need to understand kokoro as an expression of a mind and body system.
There is a connection between breathing, the physical heart and the mind. When breathing is disturbed, it impacts the physical heart and the mind.
Rihō, practising the method to acquire the Ri
Kenji Tomiki formulated a training course for Aiki-randori based upon the Judō principles mentioned earlier. The physical and mechanical process of the training is the first stage to perform.
The training course for aiki-randori is divided into 5 level:
- Fundamental movements (kihon dosa)
- Fundamental techniques (kihon waza)
- The system of breaking away (ridatsu ho)
- The system of control (seigyo ho)
- The system of randori (randori ho) divided in 3 steps
- Kakari geiko
- Hikitate geiko
- Randori geiko
Steps 1 through 4 comprise the so-called kata training. Step 5 alone is randori training. Further, kata training can be distinguished into application practise (kakari geiko) and energetic practise (hikitate geiko).
Datsuryoku muscle relaxation) 脱力
Datsuryoku or the power originated by muscle relaxation. Without relaxation, movement becomes rigid and slow.
Datsuryoku state can make your movements more powerful because it makes it possible to convey the weight to the opponent more efficiently than delivering techniques with tightened muscles that could work like putting the brakes on your movements.
One of the big obstacles to obtain datsuryoku relaxation is called Itsuki.
Itsuki 居着き is a Budo/Bujutsu concept that has been used for centuries. Itsuki literally means “stabilized” status, and is considered a bad thing.
There are two major types of itsuki.
When your mind comes to a pause after an unexpected thing happen to you and you cannot process it even for a split second, or when your mind is fixated on one idea/strategy and cannot accept other possibilities, your mind is at itsuki state.
Instructors make sometime this mistake when they try to demonstrate a certain technique and opponent is not cooperative. The result is often a more tensed muscular movement. The technique is frozen in the mind.
When you cannot move your body or respond to the attack immediately, when you have to anchor your foot to get a drive into your push, or when you lose your balance and cannot promptly recover it, your body is at itsuki state.
Ri of centering
There are 2 major lines to be practiced for centering and you cannot separate them. When practicing, keep physical, mechanical and mental concentration on the action of keeping a proper posture and extending power from the center of the body.
This line is important in maintaining proper posture. Sometimes it’s called the midline.
Standing line on the midline
The two lines result in the Seichusen line. When one line is not perfect, there is no Seichusen (the rationale for centering).
The rationale of centering is also found in the art of Kyudo.
Seichusen (正中線) no Riai practice
Seichusen or practising the center line
Aikido has a lot in common with Kenjutsu. Seichusen or the practice of the center line is an interesting example of Riai practice. While seichusen is not explicite mentioned in the Judō principles, it is hidden in the principle of posture or shizentai no ri.
There are two types of Riai training for Seichusen training. You will find these also in Tomiki’s training method for Aiki-randori.
1)Practice for positioning
In the offense and defense of the seichusen, you place your opponent on your seichusen line and not to put your body on the opponent’s seichusen line. In order to do so, it is necessary to practice footwork, hip preparation, and agility.
1)Use a technique along your seichusen line
In order to be able to something on your seichusen line, it is necessary to feel your midline (median) and seichusen line. Solo-exercises like tegatana dosa are the first step to feel your seichusen line.
Controlling the centerline
Simply pointing tegatana at the center of the target is not the same as taking the center line.
Controlling the opponent’s center line is not a simple physical thing but rather a form of pressure which results from a physical, mechanical and mental action.
Using the center line depends upon the following requirements
- Shizentai no ri – about a good posture
- Ju no ri – efficient use of power and distance that the technique can reach
- Hyoshi – Ma – distance, timing, interval to the target
Applying Riho – the training method
When you practice basic or kata movements, to create Riai you have to keep the requirements discussed earlier in your mind and incorporate them into the physical and mechanical performance.
Of course, when one learns something new, one cannot think of all these demands in practice. The first level consists of an easy physical and mechanical action. Do not think too much about how it is done, let the body do the simple action. After a certain training, we can add a couple of requirements in the action.
Physical and mechanical action without using muscle power, only posture and movement.
- Let opponent grasp your wrist, no thinking
- Turn body, and set handblade
- Step forward, outside opponent
- Bring hand at side of head opponent
- Bring bodyweight forward
Basic Kata – approaching the opponent and awase
In this simple example, many elements must be integrated to create Riai.
- Courtesy (shizentai no ri)
- Proper posture (shizentai no ri)
- Footwork movement (shizentai no ri)
- Eyes – Metsuke (shizentai no ri)
- Correct distance when meeting -Ma-ai (shizentai no ri)
- Meeting of handblades (ju no ri)
- Keeping center Seichusen (ju no ri)
- Initiative or Lead – Sen (shizentai no ri
Beginning basic kata, like other kata, seems simple at first glance. The physical and mechanical performance is easy to remember.
If one studies the content and tries to incorporate Riai (unification of guiding principles), many difficulties will arise.
During awase or meeting with the hands, if there is a mistake in the distance, the opponent can take over the initiative (sen). If there is too much force involved, there is a chance to loose balance and the opponent will take over the lead.
The breathing must be kept low (abdominal breathing), exhale not completely because the opponent will have a chance to attack you.
And what about Kuzushi no Ri
Kuzushi is loosely translated as breaking the balance. On the surface, from a physical and mechanical perspective, this is not a misunderstanding.
But as you already know, translating Japanese may give rise to misinterpretation.
If you want to integrate Kuzushi no RI in your training, you can perhaps use the idea of disrupting your opponent’s balance, physically and/or mentally.
Tomiki’s use of kuzushi is borrowed from Kodokan Judō. Disrupt physical balance in 8 directions and can be considered as an indication of unbalancing in any relevant direction.
When the center of gravity falls outside the foot area, the body will react to regain balance. It creates a chance to attack.
Practising at 70 with the help of Riai
The age of 70 is considered to be an old age even in Japan.
Applying techniques with physical strength and momentum, and continuing to do them with muscle strength when you are young, will gradually become unusable as you age.
Aikidō does not rely mainly on the extreme muscle strength required for some combat sports. It can be practiced while you have the stamina and fitness to maintain your posture and to move around. This is one of the major guiding principles: shizentai no ri.
Starting at 70 with Aikidō when your life was mostly sedentary need a training method adapted to physical and mental situation of the would-be practitioner.
Applying ju no ri requires of course a certain physical strength, but if applied properly older people can still practice the art of Aikidō.
Having the competence of Riai, the practice will create the realization of the enjoyment of Aikidō.
Practicing randori is even possible if the method is constructed with no risk of serious injury.