Shotei-awase, improving expansive force

Author: Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo

Part of the material in this article is not directly linked to the Japan Aikido Association (NPO) program or Shodokan approach. Other martial arts concepts are incorporated into the study of the subject presented.

Expansive force

Expansive force is not to be mistaken for contractive force. Expansive force is the result of the utilization of mental power (intention) and muscle tone.

Muscle tone is defined as the tension in a muscle at rest. It is the muscle’s response to an outside force. For example, gravity can be regarded as an external force and affect the balance of our body. The muscle tone in the correct position keeps us in a vertical position without losing balance.

Gravity is a vertical force that affects our body. During our daily behaviour, it is not only gravity that acts on our body, but other force actors applies forces against our body. Travelling on public transport gives you the chance to feel external forces in every direction. Everyone has a skill to survive a trip with the train or metro, and this skill is based on expansive force.

During martial art training, external forces act on you in a different way than travelling by train or metro. Building expansive strength skills in martial art require additional training.

Intent and muscle tone

In general, “using intent” is subconsciously thinking, or more like something between thinking and doing. It’s like a pulse, a “thinking energy” that moves your arm forward if you want to grasp anything.

Do not confuse “using intent” with a sort of “magical thought”. You cannot control your enemy simply by using mental power. Intention is to use your mental potency to regulate muscle tone in the most effective way. When using a flexible, non-contractive, powerful image, your mind will adjust the correct muscle tone.

Zanshin

“Looking” referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while “seeing” entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge allegedly perceives the “essence” of the things of the world.

A Separate Reality  by Carlos Castaneda 

Zanshin, the ability to see the adversary.

Mental control can be practiced while “ritsuzen” or standing exercise. Focusing your mind is not the same as attaching your mind to something, dynamic spot or static spot. A good way to practice focusing the mind is using your metsuke or the way of seeing the (imaginary) opponent. As you observe your opponent, you will see everything within your field of vision. It’s called “having zanshin”. Zanshin is a physiological sense directed by the mind, without focusing on anything.

Kenji Tomiki mentioned in “Goshin Jutsu” the concept of peripheral vision. Look at the face of the opponent and see his totality.

When practising tanto-randori (Tomiki style), you don’t look at the tanto, but look at his face. You will “feel” the start of his movement.

Something technical

When we speak of shotei-awase, we usually have the basic form in our mind. But actually, shotei-awase is to make a connection with your shotei or palm base to an opponent’s body part. It may be concluded that tegatana-awase is a form of shotei-awase.

Using shotei as a part of tegatana-awase

Basic form, as an isometric exercise

The basic form is performed mainly like an isometric exercise.

Isometric exercises are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles. During isometric exercises, the muscle doesn’t noticeably change length and the affected joint doesn’t move. Isometric exercises help maintain strength. They can also build strength, but not effectively.

We aim to improve the expansive force. This is only possible if we stretch our muscles, tendons and fascia. By practicing all forms of shotei-awase, it is necessary to begin with a body image in expansion. A body in expansion is a kind of stretching with proper muscle tone. In fact, it can be referred to as a pull/push action.

Eccentric force

“An eccentric (lengthening) muscle contraction occurs when a force applied to the muscle exceeds the momentary force produced by the muscle itself, resulting in the forced lengthening of the muscle-tendon system while contracting.” and  “Eccentric contractions require less motor unit activation and consume less oxygen and energy for a given muscle force than concentric contractions.”

“Greater forces are generated during eccentric contraction compared to other contraction types for a given angular velocity.”

While eccentric exercises may be compared to expanding strength exercises, they are not the same thing. A major factor in force expansion is creating an image. In a more holistic manner, the expansion of force is only possible if you can extend your “ki”.

Although Koichi Tohei is treated by many Aikido practitioners as someone who does “a different brand” (or some other minmization), Tohei had some innovative ideas that I think the other styles would do well to borrow, particularly in light of the recent (and very late) realization that many of the “ki” things Tohei speaks of are substantive and they are essential components of Aikido techniques.

by Mike Sigman, internal force researcher

Examples Shotei-awase

The basic form of shotei-awase can be used to enhance the use of expanding power. When using shotei-awase as an isometric exercise, the forces applied by both practitioners are used as opposing forces. In order to enhance the expansive power, we must maintain our structure in an optimal posture. Using good muscle tone and an image of the body as a transport vehicle, the way of power will be from hand to rear foot.

There is a major danger, the rear leg acts sometimes as a brake, which destroys the use of expansive power. It is advisable to let the force flow through the body. An equilibrium of forces is created without excessive contractive force.

The skill of expansive force can be practiced in a variety of situations. Sometimes the same foot is ahead, in other cases an inverse position will be used. But the principle behind the expansive force still stands.will be used. But the principle behind expansive force remains.

You do not require anyone to practice shotei awase. Pushing against the wall replaces one partner/opponent. Of course, a partner/opponent may vary the manner of pushing or resisting. The variation will be beneficial. Nonetheless, a wall or a tree may help you when you are alone.

Cooperative exercise

Both practitioners are using expansive force. They don’t dominate the partner, it’s not a question of who’s stronger.

The goal of this exercise is to enhance your force of expansion and give a certain resistance. As a matter of fact, expansive force can be used as resistance.

Expansive force. How to…?

Expansive force can be felt relatively quickly with a two-armed drill. As you pull your kyokotsu slightly, your back muscles will slide towards the shoulder joints and arms.

Pull in “kyokotsu” slightly. Your back should open. Keep your elbows down, don’t extend to the side. Don’t contract the muscles of the shoulders and arms, but keep them up and stretched with muscle tone.

After some practice, you can replicate the feeling of expansive force with one-handed exercises. By adding a mental image during practice your expansive force can increase. Avoid using contractive force.

Expansive force and tegatana-awase

The Tegatana-awase exercise can serve as a tool to enhance expansive force. After having taken the position there is an agreement that is the leader and that is the follower. The leader moves forward with an expansive force. The follower accepts the incoming force and uses it to retreat. As the follower, do not lose your expansive strength.

Upgrade your Aikido through Tegatana-awase

Author: Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo

A principal obstacle to improvement in practice is the body’s usual mode of generating movements. One cannot improve, for example Uchi-mawashi or Soto-mawashi much unless one breaks the habit of the arm and shoulder muscles to dominate the actions, and learn how to use the waist to coordinate the muscles between left and right and upper and lower body. Between what the body is told to do -the control- and what the body does -the product of motion- is an enormous gap of neural mechanisms that is opaque. The practice is at the mercy of that black box of mechanisms, which include wrong habits.

The mind as an observer

The mind is a factor that cannot be denied, and first the mind will observe our actions to discover the possible mistakes made during our movements. These mistakes can be corrected using the mind, but the mind will once again act like an observer to find other mistakes in our movements.

Central axis and shoulderline

We need to realize that there is a difference between the physical aspect and the mental image of our centre. The central axis seen by the mind always creates a connection with the partner’s centre. This is the actual meaning of “Awase”. Mostly the physical and mental central axis overlap. However, there are instances where the physical central axis creates an opening, a feint. The central mental axis maintain control on the central axis of the partner. A less skilled partner/opponent will attack you, but you have not lost control over a partner/opponent’s actions.

During tegatana-awase the center line links the front hand to the center axis.

Central Axis

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The triangle

The line between the points of the shoulder joint remains the same relative length. The shoulder joint points are mentally connected to the hand and form a triangle. The lines between the shoulder articulation points and the hand are not fixed and will change synchronously when the shoulder line rotates around the central axis.

Turning the shoulderline is a matter of using the waist and not by using the hips. The upperbody can turn in-and outwards using the waist muscles.

During tegatana-awase, when partner/opponent moves forward with tsugi-ashi stepping, we can moves backward with tsugi-ashi stepping or turning the shoulderline.

Expanding powerline

Expansive force should not be confused with contractive force. Expansive force is the result of a mental image and muscle tone.

Muscle tone is defined as the tension in a muscle at rest. Appropriate muscle tone enables our bodies to quickly respond to a stretch.

Expansive force has to be trained to with special exercises. For example standing exercises like ritsuzen or zhan-zuang are very helpfull in the development of expansive force. Also, shotei-awase exercise is such an exercise to develop expansive force. Of course, the skill of remaining in muscle tone mode is necessary.

If this kind of training is not included in your training program, you have to rely on contractive muscle power on many occasions in your training when strong posture (static or dynamic)is needed.

The mental line from the central axis to the tegatana is not fixed. But the power in this line is always expanding. There is no pulling in.

Expanding is created by the powerline at the outside of the arm. Expanding power comes from the koshi/tanden and travels through the back to the shoulder and arm.

Range of movement

When adopting a “kamae” posture, mostly one foot is in the front.

Bodyweight can move forward and back. Moving to the side can compromise the stabilty. But the upperbody can turn without moving the feet.

Depending on the circumstances, turning the shoulderline can be performed with bringing the bodyweight forward or backward.

The upper and lower parts of the body are independent

I mentioned before, upper body is moved by using the waist. These movements are supported by the lower back (koshi) and the crotch/groin (mata). Turning movements by using the waist is fundamentally necessary during tenshikei exercises.

Many “kuzushi” drills use tenshikei. The use of the waist and back are the principal components.

Stepping during tegatana-awase

Footsteps begin with the use of Koshi and mata. Basically, the upper body is not involved in step motions (tsugi-ashi).

At times, the upper part of the body is used to invoke gravity in step movements (Ayumi-ashi/korobi-no-ashi).

Using the upper body (kyokotsu).

Tsugi-ashi or korobi no ashi need a flexible lower body. Especially the knees and Achilles tendons used the power of the falling body to move forward.

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Using gravity during tegatana-awase is a method to study “yukozo” or using the flexible body while keeping the expansive power.

Tegatana-awase and intention

The intent relates to the mind, but certainly affects the mental and physical body.

In practice, we coordinate our mind and body with breathing and relaxation exercises to improve our various types of forces. We cultivate physical and mental control over our breathing, movement and energy flow. The exercises are designed to relax muscle tension and promote a natural energy balance.
In this growing process, there needs to be intent.

In general, “using intent” is subconsciously thinking, or more like something between thinking and doing. It’s like a pulse, a “thinking energy” that moves your arm forward if you want to grasp anything.

Training your intention means training your mind and developing a strong form of intention that allows you to be physically, mentally and neurologically prepared for action.

But the intention can be read by your partner/opponent and in that case you will have trouble. The skill is to use “Mushin”, the art of not thinking with the conscious mind.
Thinking energy is produced by the subconscious mind and this is only possible if your training program includes using the intention of the subconscious mind.
There is no delay when you use thinking energy in a situation where you must respond immediately to the right action.

Awase. How to connect.

Author: Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo

When I started Tomiki Aikido, I learned 2 exercises that I did not understand at the time, more than 40 years ago. Previously I practiced other methods of Aikido, but the exercises of tegatana-awase and shotei-awase were not practised in the way it was done in Tomiki Aikido training.

  • Tegatana awase
  • Shotei awase

The practice was very simple and the underlying actions of the body were not well explained. But back then, it wasn’t necessary. But I was very curious about what was happening beyond the horizon.

Tegatana and Shotei

Tegatana – Handblade

The handblade means the hand with the 5 fingers fully outstretched together. When the fingers are stretched out thus, the part that forms the base of the little finger is strained. With this part you can strike at the opponent and parry or check his blow upon you.

Shotei -Palm of the hand

Basically this is the palm of the hand, in particular the base of the palm.

Awase (合わせ)

If you are searching for a definition of this term, you will get various explanations. Then there is the general message: Gathering two opposites together.

In the case of tegatana-awase, the idea is to bring together “tegatana of two people”. And in the case of shotei-awase, it means gathering “shotei of two people”.

Aiki

Since we are talking about an exercise involving 2 people, and this in the context of aikido, we may conclude that these exercises should reflect the idea of “aiki”.

Here we are of course treading a slippery path, because opinions about aiki can differ quite thoroughly. If we stick to the definition that Kenji Tomiki gave it, we can get a better idea of what we should strive for.

The meaning of “aikido.” the old saying goes, “It is the spirit that carries the mind and controls the body.” The people of acient times believed that man’s mind and body and cosquently his strength were under the control of his spritit. 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 of the principle from within.

Judo and Akido – Kenji Tomiki

Principle of gentleness

This principle, most often known by the Japanese word “Ju” cannot be explained without another word “Go”.

  • Ju: the body is flexible, movement is smooth without blockage, force can be transmitted in the body without difficulty
  • Go: a physical state, mostly associated with martial art practice in which the body or movement is strong but not rigid.

In explaining the exercises mentioned at the beginning of this article, we need to take into account both sides of the principle of gentleness or in other words “Aiki”.

Tegatana Awase

In Dr Lee ah Loi’s book, Book One Randori, there is a short description of this exercise.

Face one another and let your handblades meet in chudan posture, cross handblades at base of hand and look at your partner’s eyes through the gap made by your hands. Keep good posture and move forward with tsugi-ashi. When you are pushed, do not resist too much but step back with tsugi-ashi, then try pushing your partner. You can move backwards, forwards and sideways, but do not break your right chudan posture. Remember to keep your body square and to face your opponent all the time. In performing this exercise, you can practise basic posture, tsugi-ashi, fast movement and reacting to your opponent’s intention and power.

In a book written by Tetsuro Nariyama and Fumiaki Shishida, Tradition and the Competitive Edge, important key points are mentioned related to tegatana awase.

The practice of tegatana awase is made up of many important basic principles, such as shisei, unsoku, metsuke, toitsuryoku and ma-ai.

Nariyama and Shishida’s comment is very much in line with Dr. Lee’s description. Obviously, the Japanese book uses Japanese words, whereas Dr. Lee uses the English equivalent. What stands out clearly from the text of the Japanese authors, tegatana awase consists of many important basic principles. Without knowing those fundamental principles, the exercise becomes pointless.

The same book by Nariyama and Shishida contains an explanation of “toitsu-ryoku or focused power”. They described toitsu-ryoku as a combination of good breathing (kokyu) and proper use of the body. Unfortunately, there is no description of the correct breathing procedure. How to use the body primarily refers to general remarks on how to keep the body straight and the different methods of foot movements.

In a more recent book (05/06/2020) written by Toshiya Komatsu and Yoshiomi Inoue, Basic techniques of Sport Aikido (Tomiki Aikido) a brief description is mentioned on tegatana-awase.

A basic practice method to understand ma-ai “distance” from the opponent. The tegatana of two practitioners are matched in contact and they move freely while maintaining the correct distance.

Breathing and correct body use

If you ask a teacher about breathing, the answer will often be “don’t think about your breathing, it’s a natural process”. Of course, breathing is a natural process, but most people breathe quite superficially.

Breathing and the correct use of the body are a major health issue for a large part of the population. You will find a lot of breathing and movement programs to enhance your health.

When your breathing is poor and your body movements are not effective, the practice of tegatana awase will not result in better performance. Your training program should include exercises to turn your breathing and body movements into better performance.

One of the greatest martial art practitioner, Rickson Gracie Brazilian Jiujitsu, used a breathing method to improve his performance. What Rickson Gracie is doing is called a ‘Kriya or internal’ cleaning exercise. It’s a self massage of the organs which improves blood flow.

There are other methods to improve your breathing. These methods are mostly based upon the use of the diaphragm in relation with the abdomen. Kokyu-ho or breathing exercises are used to develop a stronger “hara”.

Shotei Awase

From Dr. Lee’ s book:

Face one another and step forward on left foot, keeping a slightly wider stance, with your right arm straight and in the center. Put the heel of your right hand against that of your partner. Push each other, but try not to bend your arm, the power should be horizontal. The main difference between Shotei and Tegatana is that in Shotei the position is stationary and the power comes from the hips. This training is for power and posture, if you keep practising this, you wil develop a very strong Aikido posture.

In the book by Toshiya Komatsu and Yoshiomi Inoue, a brief description of shotei-awase..

A basic practice method. Application of hand blade matching. Place each other’s tegatana (hand blades) on the centre line and put the lower part of the palm of your hand (shotei) on that of your opponent. Practice using the whole body efficiencly to push the opponent. Lower your hips to push him instead of using only your arms.

In Nariyama and Shishida’s book, shotei-awase is not explained, but there is an extensive explanation about the benefits of toitsu-ryoku and kokyu-ryoku. Both concepts are necessary to perform an efficiently shotei-awase.

Some Chinese martial arts use a similar basic practise. There seems also a relationship with traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Using Ming-men

Kokyu-ryoku

During tegatana-awase and shotei-awase, we need power to keep our posture and to move our body. Even when we don’t move our feet in shotei-awase, there is a lot of movement in our body. This kind of power is commonly named as “kokyu-ryoku”.

Kokyu (呼吸) is translated as “breath” and kokyuryoku is translated as the power of breathing. You wil also find the expression “shinkokyu”. This is translated as “deep breathing”. The word “ryoku” is translated as “power”.

Kokyu-ryoku is mostly translated as “breath power”. In fact this is misleading, because breathing is a process to bring oxygen into the body. The art of breathing of course, is using the diaphragm and other muscles. Training of these muscles can give you a better way of breathing, but also, a more robust “hara”. Hara is the source of generating power, mostly derived from gravity and solidity of the earth. The better the hara is functioning, the more power can be generated.

The power originated by the hara is not a contractive kind of power. When the breath after inhaling is pushed down into the hara, it becomes more solid and expansive. The surrounding muscles, especially the “koshi” will act more efficiently to make the rebound of power of the gravity from the earth in the direction of the arms. This is only possible if the body adopt the state of “jukozo”.

Tegatana-awase and shotei-awase are build upon jukozo. If we use contractive power during these exercises, the concept of “ju/go” or “Principle of gentleness” will not be there.

Unsoku – Suri-ashi and tsugi-ashi

Practising tegatana-awase and shotei-awase can be done either without stepping movements or with stepping movements. We must consider different kinds of stepping methods.

Unsoku – Moving around with sliding feet (suri-ashi) and following feet (tsugi-ashi) . When responding to your opponent’s attack, you need to maintain a good posture while moving. A formal method is created by Kenji Tomiki and consist of moving in eight directions from the posture of shizentai.

This is the original judo-unsoku

Suri-ashi – When moving in unsoku, do not raise the base of the big toe from the tatami mat, and slides your feet on the surface of the tatami mat. This is called sliding feet.

Tsugi-ashi – A sliding foot movement either to move the back foot closer to the front foot or to move the front foot closer to the back foot with the pusrpose to keep good posture. Remark that during tsugi-ashi the “suri-ashi” method is used. There is no lifting of the base of the big toe.

The formal method of course requires some adaptations to fulfill the requirements for practical applications during Aikido training. Especially moving forward and backward need some modifications. The formal way of practising is maintained.

Forward and backward stepping method – tsugi ashi. Adapted from the formal judo-unsoku

Alternative stepping movements

These movements are not included in the formal “Unsoku”, but are frequently used in the practise of Aikido.

Ayumi-ashi – To move the left and right feet alternately.

De-mawari – forward stepping and turning – Mawashi-ashi:Turning foot or feet .

Hiki-mawari – backward stepping and turning.

Postures

Basic postures are used when practising tegatana-awase and shotei-awase.

In tegatana-awase, mostly a ai-gamae or mutual posture is used. When right foot is forward, right tegatana are crossed at chudan level.

In shotei-awase, ai-gamae or mutual posture is used with a different approach in using the tegatana. When right foot is forward, left shotei is used to make contact.

Of course, this is the guidance when using the most “basic” method. Your creativity may be used to modify the posture in gyaku-gamae or reverse posture. Tegatana and shotei may also differ in a variety of ways.

Alternative Exercises

Joining tegatana or shotei is the main concept of awase exercises during Tomiki Aikido’s basic practice. Of course, there are other drills to practice “awase”.

There are 2 categories of practising “awase”:

  • Static exercises – without stepping
  • Stepping exercises

These exercises will be the subject of a separate blog post.

More information about Tegatana-awase and Shotei-awase will be discussed in another post in the near future.