Cyclic Aikido

Cyclic Aikido

movement_Fotor movement

There is a concept about Aikido training and rhythm that is quite distinctively unique, with reference to other martial arts.

Last evening’s training with Edna, made me realised that not a lot of folks understand, why Aikidokas always seem to appear to ‘fall on their own’.

High Tempo / Low Tempo

It is quite common in a beginners class that the lesson goes from step 1 to 2 to 3, and the ukemi is taken, almost as a matter of exaggeration or deliberation. Techniques is broken down into bite size moves, and the technicalities are often explained, and experimented until the beginner students can move, in a manner without too much doubt or questioning. This kind of hand holding is can be quite protracted, and tedious. The technique can be quite static and there are more opportunities to try, test, resist, and figure out hows and the whys of a technique. This is somewhat a low tempo Aikido; baby-steps.

A high tempo Aikido, is liken a seasoned chef, in his kitchen, one that he has worked in for many years. He knows the kitchen layout, the nooks and crannies. He can move quickly from the fridge to the raw food to the cooking and serving, all without much talk and explanation. Things seem to ‘flow’ with a sense of energy and rhythm, and everything appears to the untrained, easy.

The session I partnered Edna was a Ryote-tori Kokyu-nage.  Sensei was emphasizing on the pivot of the hip to move a slightly stronger or larger uke, and this move, when done quickly, expeditiously, looks deceivingly simple, uke will appear like they fall on their own. But that’s not the point with Edna.

She paused, and posed this question me, her uke: “Am I falling on my own?”

Simple answer is ‘Yes.’

Now here is the long answer

Edna has acquired a long number of  years in training. She is proficient in her moving, and certainly confident in her ukemi. As her uke, going for the grab, I can trust her to move expeditiously, without time consuming self analysis, or attempt to understand why. As her uke I trust her capabilities to execute the technique well. With a skilled partner like her, I can move, and move quickly.

So what happens when we move quickly? Thinking stops. Aikido is action, not thinking. On the mat, it is action, trial and error. When it is working, keep it going, build rhythm, build a fast tempo, and push each other, help each other with a better physical conditioning. I am not overstating that I can continue the technique very much like an Energizer bunny. In any martial arts, any fight, the first thing you bring to the table is physical conditioning. I have long learned to outlast ‘good’ and ‘skillful’ partners, who are simply not physically conditioned to maintain the tempo I drive.

So for Edna, her question is obvious, she may think that I am giving her the ‘charity fall’, it is really hard to tease apart when things are moving so fast. Was her technique so ‘perfect’ that at a touch, and pivot of her hips, I fall?  Not always so! But what happens in a fast tempo Aikido is, I as the uke is committed to the grab, that is my job, when the nage moves, in relative synchronous speed to mine, motion creates fluidity, and that will ultimately result in me taking a fall. Can I resist her technique, not very likely, unless there is a jam, unless she jams up her technique; angle wrong, out of breath, distracted, or simply fumbled, then it is back to analysis to paralysis.

Learn to trust and un-think

As an Aikidoka clocks the years and moves up in experience, the tempo will naturally begins to pick up, big circle movement becomes efficient, the circle will get smaller, and smaller, until it is only perceptible.

Advance training builds a lot of trust between partners that the technique is executed correctly and the uke is taking a genuine fall. There is no place to question if the nage is doing it ‘correctly’ or not, or is the uke is taking a genuine fall or not. You just keep going at each other, nage does what the nage does, the uke, falls, gets up quickly and go at it again, no talk necessary.

Back to the analogy of the kitchen, the chef will not slow down to just scrub and do the dishes, when he has a good rhythm going, he will move fast, with a wipe and clean as he goes motion, everything in the kitchen becomes one movement and it is a beautiful thing to witness the skill of such professional at work. There is a present, a humming spirit of good vibe, that is what Aikido practice is about.

When you got a good run going, keep running, don’t stop to ask yourself, ‘Am I having a good run?’

Slow-mo Aikido

Slow-mo Aikido

Last night, I gave a class, and as a warm up, I asked the class to do a basic Aikido technique “Taino Tenkan“, or more colloquially known as “Tenkan“.

This is the basic block of Aikido. Every beginner knows this. So let’s make it a little different.

It’s not something new that I’m doing, so I told them to slow down, while they do their tenkan. Instead of the normal speed, slow down, slow down, S-L-O-W D-O-W-N…

Apparently, it seems to be a tall order.

The students cannot slow down. Those who did, did it more in counting a cadence… 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4… That’s not what I meant.


It wouldn’t take more than a second to do a tenkan. Faster still 0.8 seconds, it can go faster than that. But that is not the point. I want the tenkan to be dragged, longer, perhaps 5 seconds, but that is not my point either. I want to slowness to bring about awareness…

Anyone can go fast, it is always a trade off, you go fast, technique will be compromised. While it needs skills to go fast, you need just as much skills to go slow. It is not easy, when you want it done, slowly, smoothly, with full awareness.

When you tenkan slowly, you will need to bring attention to your muscular contractions, movement and direction. The position of your legs, hips, shoulders and tension will become obvious. When things become static, there is no momentum for you to capitalise and use to your advantage.

Slow Tenkan is full tai sabaki

All Aikido movement is tai sabaki, there is no ‘part 1- leads to part 2 leads to part 3’. In any Aikido movement, everything moves, there is no body parts to isolate. when you slow down the tenkan, your uke has more advantage than you, he is simply holding your wrist, while you try to tenkan slowly. you have to move in such a slow deliberate manner while he has every advantage to shift his body weight to counter-act you.

So when you move slowly, you need to use your entire body to respond to a wrist grab. You need to become more aware than just that grab, and in order for you to neutralise the grab, you need to learn to shift the body, and become aware of how shifting the body changes your partner’s centre of gravity in such a manner that you are able to gain a superior position.

Centre and rhythm

The focus for most novice is the legs, as they often mistake the movement originating from the legs. While it is true to a certain sense, to really master a martial art, the movement comes from the hips, the legs, is simply an apparatus to  transports the body to a more advantageous place desired.

So when a tenkan happens, the centre shifts and moves to accommodate the uke, the leg simply carry out an ‘instruction’ to move, and the pivot point, again, comes from the hips, the leg cannot pivot, the hips can. The turn of tenkan comes from a concentrated focus on the hips, which is why when a tenkan is done properly, it is very difficult to counter. And tenkan is very difficult to master, simply because most people are unable to connect at the hips.

I want the class to slow down, so that there is rhythm. If the uke is static, the nage respond appropriately. If the uke is skilled and fluid, the nage respond appropriately. What usually happens is a dead kind of Aikido, where the nage will do what the nage does in a fixed, consistent tempo, irrespective of who the uke is and what the uke brings to the table. When you slow down, and pay attention to rhythm, the technique comes alive, because rhythm is existential. If you are stuck in your own tempo, you will be defeated, because when your opponent can catch your tempo, they can exploit it. Rhythm, on the other hand, relies on what your partner brings to the table and your movement, speed, tempo, will be an appropriate response, then the relationship comes alive.