A dilemma, Ai-gamae or Gyaku-gamae

Kamae, the fighting position

There is an interesting aspect connected to the fighting position of Tomiki Aikido method. In randori no kata, Tori always stands with his right foot in front: migi-gamae. The same applies for Uke. Of course this situation applies for right-handed persons.

But where does the systematic use of the right-sided position, migi-gamae, come from?
First of all we have to understand that randori no kata do not represent a boxing attitude to the fighting situation. We are dealing with classical bujutsu, especially Japanese fencing, kenjutsu. The swordsman always puts his right leg in front. In western boxing or Japanese karate a right-handed person in general takes the left stance. Some Tomiki Aikido competitors use this kamae also during their randori.
The basic kamae in randori no kata mimics that Tori and Uke have a sword in their hands. Randori no kata promotes the basic concepts of kenjutsu. These concepts are how to shift the body away from the line of attack (tai-sabaki) and keep a safe distance (rikakutaisei). There are 2 basic methods to step out of the attacking line.

  • you can avoid the line of attack to the inner side or
  • to the outer side of the line of attack

aigamae gyaku gamaeAi-gamae and gyaku-gamae

The basic method to practise randori no kata is by using ai-gamae. Both perform a kamae with the right foot in front or with the left foot if the practise is focussing on left handed performance.

The exercise of tegatana awase (see on the left) can be practised with ai-gamae or gyaku-gamae. In gyaku-gamae, tori can put tegatana on the inside of uke’s arm or on the outside.

Touching the tegatana of the opponent is the starting of a waza while practising randori no kata.

awase basic 17


basis15 nr1-2Using gyaku-hanmi in randori no kata

In basic 15 (randori no kata), the position of gyaku-gamae is used in to some “waza”. Gyaku-gamae-ate is such an example.

In the beginning of this article we stated: Tori always stands with his right foot in front: migi-gamae. Why is Tomiki sensei changing his posture to hidari-gamae? It is more logical if Uke is changing his posture, because this creates a training opportunity for Tori to practise against a left-handed attack. Of course we can practise randori-no-kata from a left-handed situation. But we cannot forget the origin of the right-handed posture: Japanese swordmanship.

The role of Uke

In randori-no kata, the role of Uke is an offensive one. Mind and body must reflect the intention to attack. When Uke lift his “tegatana” up and towards Tori, there must be an intention to attack. For training purposes, Uke can physically attack with shomen-uchi without lifting the hand to jodan posture.

The role of Tori

The role of Tori will depend on the action of Uke and can be performed according 3 specific situations:

  • go-no-sen (reactive initiative)
  • sen-no-sen (simultaneous initiative)
  • sensen-no-sen (pre-emptive initiative)

As previously mentioned, tegatana-awase is the start of the physical performance of a waza. But it is also possible by “not touching” tegatana, Uke’s mind is of course offensive, there is no physical attack. The previous example of gyaku-gamae-ate is such a situation.

Timing or Sen

Mostly in tanto-randori no kata (basic 17) a specific kind of timing is used: go-no-sen. This means reactive timing. The opponent performs an attack and the defender reacts to this and deals with it with the help of a body shift with simultaneous a nagashi movement (sliding parry) followed by a counterattack. There are two rhythms connected to this timing. The rhythm can be one-two, for example in a case of aigamae-ate, or it can be one, which means that parry and counter attack are performed at the same time. Hiki-otoshi is such an example.

Can we use other timing situation in basic kata for randori (randori no kata)?

Sen-no-sen: This means simultaneous timing. This needs a different state of mind. Tori tries to sense the intention of the attacker and starts to move simultaneously with him. In Tanto-randori-no-kata, a sen-no-sen action can be used when a tanto-strike is at the beginning of the action.

Sensen-no-sen: This means pre-emptive timing and it is the most demanding to perform. To perform it correctly would mean that Tori should be able to feel the movement of Uke before it takes any physical movement. In Japanese budo there is lots of material to be found about this timing: to pre-emptive strike at the point when Uke is still planning his own attack. In this level you take the initiative when you sense the intention of the attack in the opponent’s mind or in his ki, as the Japanese say.

The game in Randori-no-kata

By changing posture and situation, we stimulate the creativity of the practitioners. And to make it more interesting, playing with 3 kinds of timing is multiplying your numbers of possible waza.

Next step is to use all your waza in randori (kakari geiko, hikitate geiko and randori geiko)


Beyond basic training

Tomiki100yrs 021Tomiki Aikido has a very simple basic training system: On jujutsu and his modernisation.
This text is written by Kenji Tomiki to modernise old jujutsu into a new training system, suitable for our modern society
Basically most of the practitioners have a 1 or 2 times a week training schedules. If this is done on a regular base, progress will be consistent but slow. Burning calories or becoming fit again can be a goal.
Sometimes, you just have to put more effort in your training when you are preparing for grading or competition. Unfortunately the depth of knowledge will not go deep. It will stick to the “sporting side ” of a martial art.

Nevertheless Japanese Budo can fulfill your search for spirituality. In Japanese martial arts literature, there are numerous testimonies about the deeper meaning of Japanese Budo. Mostly the authors are describing an almost mystical experience during their training somewhere in the mountains. Our modern society is of course not suitable for such a training program. We have responsibilities towards our family and friends.

A different approach to Japanese Budo

What is the attraction to Japanese Budo beyond the sporting side?

To answer this question I suggest you read 2 books:

  • Musashi: An Epic Novel Of The Samurai Era by Eiji Yoshikawa
  • Gorin no sho by Musashi Miyamoto

The former book is a romanticized story of Musashi Miyamoto’s life, he is a hero and also a loner. In Western society, we also have stories of heroes and their magic. Many comic books are based upon the stories of a hero who has incredible powers.
The latter is “A book of strategy” written by the master. It describes the process for searching the deeper meaning of Japanese Budo.
The attraction to the magic of Japanese Samurai was and is a driving force to start seriously with martial arts. Many aikido practitioners are revering Morihei Ueshiba for his technical but mostly for his spiritual approach to martial arts.
This driving force we can see as a kind of “elevation” of the mind. With this “elevation” we feel ourselves more positive.

The same feeling we can see in the behaviour of Kenji Tomiki & Hideo Ohba followers. Although it is lesser spiritual, if we go deeper into the philosophy of those Aikido masters, we will discover a very fundamental moral code. Some elements of this code are commented in another article : Cutting and striking.

The “Tomiki Aikido” syllabus

Most of the Tomiki Aikido groups are using a similar syllabus to teach aikido.

Behind the syllabus there is a logic with an origin in Koryu Bujutsu, old style Japanese martial arts. 3 levels of physical and mental are the training objectives.

  • Lower level – focus on technique and “ma” (distance and interval emphasis)
  • Middle level – focus primarily on “hyoshi” (cadence, rhythm, tempo, speed)
  • Upper level – focus on taikan, mushin, kokoro…..

In other words the SHU-HA-RI mantra.

The “Ma” dimension

Mostly, ma is translated as distance. This is of course correct but also limited in understanding. In a most basic understanding, ma is distance but also interval. Interval can is a time based concept and is related to “timing”.
Techniques can only be succesful if distance and interval are correctly applied. The concept of rikakutaisei is basically an application of “Ma” as distance and interval. Of course on a deeper level, rikakutaisei has more to offer than distance and interval.
Ma is the distance and interval for using “Ki”, the vehicle for using power in your movements. This happens always in relation with your opponent’s mental and physical movements.

The “Hyoshi” dimension

If we cannot understand life is following a certain rhythm, we cannot understand the actions of the opponent, because it is closely related to the rhythm of life.
Movements are following a certain pattern, which is not linear. Movements are expressions of spiral actions in space and time dimensions. More info: Spacetime.

Hyoshi is the skill to change the rhythm of the opponent and to create an opening in the movement cycle for further actions: killing or controlling. The concept of “Sen” is an application of Hyoshi.

The “Yomi” dimension

Yomi comes from the Japanese verb Yomu, and is translated as “to read”. Yomi is closely related to something which is not following scientific proofs.

In the context of martial arts, the yomi concept is about reading the opponent actions or his movements in space and time. This skill is only possible when you understand

  • taikan
  • kokoro
  • mushin

The yomi dimension is going beyond the physical expression of our being, but is closely related to our mental and physical movements, in other words an application of our body.

20077120More information about the non-physical aspects of martial arts.
In his book Kokoro no katachi, Akira Hino is describing many concepts of martial arts beyond the idea of sports martial arts or in our case “sports aikido”.
If you like to know about the practical skills of changing your (martial arts) life, I suggest you to read some articles or books about “Kaizen”, the skill of change in a positive way. Although kaizen is related to changing the workflow in a company, it can be used also in your personal life. Remember the book of strategy “Gorin no sho” by Musashi Miyamoto. He describes a the strategy to use for a fight with 1 opponent or with 10,000 opponents.

Tegatana Awase

Tegatana awase

Tegatana awase is a basic exercise in Tomiki Aikido. Mostly it is used to study good posture and distance.

tegatana awase shiseiDon’t bend the posture in the lower back. Of course the study of tegatana awase goes beyond posture and distance. When Uke (senior) moves around, Tori (student) must follow smoothly Uke’s movement while keeping posture and a proper ma-ai.

tegatana awase02

Using the concept of “jukozo” creates a new dimension in this exercise. Every joint of our body must be flexible to store or to pass incoming movement or power. Jukozo gives you the possibility to acquire the skill of immediate response to the movements of Uke.

Body block or keeping the body 

3gankyo bappaiDuring tegatana awase the position of the arm and chest has a concave shape, called Gankyōbappai (含胸抜背). This is a phrase used to describe the postural adjustment at the chest level (Empty the chest & Pull out the back ). Keep the concave shape of the chest and stretch the spine to widen the back. Important is not to tense the muscles. There is a resemblance with the posture of ritsuzen (standing meditation), holding a ball between the arms.

During your training there will be many situations to apply “body block”.


The science of training

Primary movement patterns.

2895036Humans have several primary movement patterns that are learnt and refined throughout early life. Many of those primary movements are learnt by a baby without an example of another person. The baby has no role model.
When the baby starts to discover other people movements, a mirroring process starts in the brain of the baby and copies the movements of other people. Refer to the book written by Marco Iacoboni.


During your early years of life, your brain records and refines several primary movement patterns that it will need again and again. These patterns, once ingrained, allow your brain to quickly put them in to action and modify them slightly as the environment dictates.

Learning or modifying basic movement patterns

Primary movement pattern is learned without a role model, basic movement pattern is learnt by using a role model like parent, other children…..Or martial arts instructors.
Using walking as an example. Your brain is recalling the basic pattern known as ‘gait’ and could modify this to uphill or downhill or over uneven surfaces or in a crowd with shorter steps than usual.

The patterns are used in many variations but in the brain, the basic movement pattern is always the same. So a strike with the hand-blade, a fist or a knife is a replica of a basic movement pattern in the brain. What changes is the speed at which they occur, the loading in the movement (due to the weight of a weapon), and other minor refinements (where the target is and the timing of the start of the movement).
With a basic movement pattern the relative timing of the body segments stays the same. So, in striking with the hand-blade, if the action took one second the timing and sequencing of the joint movements would all be proportional to that one second. If in a strike with a weapon, the action took half a second the timing and sequencing of the joint movements would still be in the same proportion as in the hand-blade strike.

This allows us to ‘slow down’ and perfect a movement if someone is having a hard time with it, and as if by magic, when we speed the movement up again the improved movement should prevail. This is one reason that getting it right is more important than getting it done. The purity of the movement greatly increases the forces that can eventually be developed and can significantly reduce the injury risk simultaneously.

0.5 seconds for the mind to recognise what has occurred

libet bookBenjamin 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.
When someone attacks you, you usually try to defend with your hands, but this is just a conditioned response. However, if you enter into your opponent as your opponent is about to attack, your opponent will be turned back on himself and his attack will suddenly stop. This is because you are entering in before 0.5 seconds and entering the unconscious mind of your opponent. That is why you can control your opponent. Once your pre-0.5 seconds unconscious mind is controlled, you cannot break free from that condition. Usually, after 0.5 seconds, both you and your opponent are in the conscious world, and because such pre-conscious control will not work, it will become a simple exchange of power and technique.

Sen or pre-emptive action

5 rings011There is only “one” pre-emptive action, but we discern three types in pre-emptive action.

• One is a pre-emptive action from me to the opponent, and it is called the active pre-emptive action.
• Another is a pre-emptive action when the opponent is to strike me, and it is called the reactive pre-emptive action.
• The last is a pre-emptive action when both the opponent and I are to strike each other, and it is called the interactive pre-emptive action.

There are no other type in pre-emptive actions.
A pre-emptive action is the decisive factor in victory, it is the most crucial in martial arts.
There are many details in a pre-emptive action, but as it is up to the logic of the moment and you need to see the mind of the opponent and use the skill of martial arts to win.
In the “Fire” book (The book of 5 Rings) by Musashi Miyamoto, you will find a similar explanation.

Chikara wo Nuku 力を抜く

In a Japanese dojo, you hear sometimes the expression. Chikara wo Nuku. Chikara means power or force. Nuku means to pull out or withdraw. You may hear for example `katana wo nuku`, to pull out (unsheathe) your sword. It means start of the action.
The “chikara wo nuku” concept is not only important in martial arts but also in everyday life when there is friction between 2 people. Finding the timing to remove the tension is a skill very useful for quarrelling people. There is also an expression when a fighting couple makes up, moto no saya ni osomatta – the sword is sheathed back in its scabbard.

Chikara wo nuku is the ability to drop or release power in a proper manner and timing when you feel resistance in an exchange with the opponent. In toshu randori (unarmed randori), you can either create a tension or pressure and release it or you receive tension from your opponent and skilfully direct and release it. Properly executed, you can create moments of great surprise for your opponent. When the opponent is surprised, his power is often disrupted and creates moments of receptivity in him.

The function of muscles

The most serious mistake that people have about body movements is that they believe movements are primarily generated by conscious contractions because they have consciousness and muscle.
Basically there are 2 kind of using muscles in the training for Tomiki Aikido.

• bridging the distance
• manipulation of opponent

Bridging the distance

In bridging the distance, the function of muscles is not to generate the main power of body movements, but to trigger the start a movement (to lose balance) by using gravity, to control it (to create new balance), and to redirect into the opponent. Using gravity is an economic way of using energy and is certainly according Kano’s maxim :

“Seiryoku-Zenyo” (maximum efficient use of energy)


Manipulation of the opponent

Manipulation of the opponent is the result of the body communication by using the concept of “sen” or initiative.
Besides “sen”, we must also consider the distance between the 2 bodies. The attack of the opponent has to be controlled by using “mikiri” or the manipulation of the distance by an extremely thin margin. This action of control must be very precise. By using the tenshikei skill we can transmit our power into the opponent.
Pulling or tensing the muscles will destroy the capacity of listening to the communication of the 2 bodies

autopietic system

Jukozo – Flexible structure – Tensegrity

Tomiki wrote many articles and books about Budo, mostly Judo and Aikido. In his writings, but also in his lectures he stressed a lot “shizentai” or 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.
Flexibility is a concept prevalent in all parts of Japanese society. Even in Japanese architecture, flexible structure is a basic concept due to the many earthquakes.
The old temples were built on a principle of flexi­bility, with thousands of interconnecting wooden parts that absorbed and dissipated the force of an earthquake as it traveled up and down the structure. Unfortunately this concept was overlooked by early 1900 Japanese architects until there was a major earthquake in 1923. From a modern architectural perspective flexible structure or “jukozo” was a revolutionary concept, and reinvented by Japanese archi­tects as the only defence against earthquakes.
In Western society, tensional integrity or floating compression is a similar concept (see Tensegrity on Wikipedia).
In martial arts, skill of “jukozo” or the interconnecting parts of the human body is one of the basic premises of study from the beginning in your training. Jukozo is direct related to “rendo” (interlinked movements) which will be discussed later.

Soft-Tissue-Therapy-Tensegrity-Structure1-e1426098026118  tensegritty01