Monthly Archives: May 2011

Gawai Schedule and Saturday Class Reschedule

Happy Gawai! Just to let you know our schedule for the Gawai Holidays are as follows:

30th May Monday: Classes as per normal
1st June Wednesday: Closed for Gawai Holidays
3rd June Friday: Classes as per normal
4th June Saturday: Closed for Agung’s birthday
5th June Sunday: Classes as per normal

For the next two months we’ll be also shifting our Saturday class to 4pm to 5pm as Swinburne University goes into their semester break.

Atemi: Its role and types in Aikido

Atemi are blows to a body and in Aikido are delivered not to maim or destroy the person but with the main aim of breaking his attention or balance to allow you to execute an Aikido technique.

Often in Aikido practice we neglect the atemi or do a half hearted attempt at it merely ‘acting it out’. The views of atemi’s role in Aikido is quite varied. Some feel that atemi is not required in Aikido and proper body movement and timing is all that is needed in Aikido. Others feel that Aikido without atemi is ineffective in a real fight. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between in that atemi is indeed very important but should not be relied on exclusively much as one should not just rely on Aikido ‘techniques’ exclusively without the use of atemi (which can be also considered as Aikido techniques).

It is interesting to note that O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido has often been quoted to say

“My technique is 70 percent atemi (striking) and 30 percent nage (throwing).”

Gozo Shioda, the founder of the Yoshinkan Aikido school repeats this

“The founder, Ueshiba Sensei, said, In a real battle, atemi is seventy percent, technique is thirty percent. The training that we do in the dojo is designed to teach us various sorts of techniques, the correct way to move our body, effective ways of using our power, and how to create a relationship with the other person.”

“Atemi is virtually omitted in Aikido training on the ground that a preliminary blow should not become a matter of predominant concern. However, there are quite a few cases in which the meaning of a technique becomes incomprehensible if the attendant atemi is left out. I suggest therefore that study should be made as to when atemi should be delivered in the execution of a technique and cases of it’s omission.”

My own understanding is that we cannot be over-reliant on atemi as a ‘fix it’ for ineffective techniques but we should make every opportunity to practice it in our daily training. Often the most difficult part of Aikido is not the actual technique itself but the entry, blending and getting uke in an ideal position to carry out the technique.

When learning basics, to simplify matters, we often teach it without the atemi. Basic techniques are on their own ineffective and are merely stepping stones to understanding Aikido movement and techniques. However these basics form the very foundation of your Aikido and should not be neglected! However, once you are familiar with the basic technique, you should try to spot atemi opportunities and make it a habit to apply atemi where possible so that in a real situation it happens without thinking.

George S. Ledyard post an excellent an article on atemi here and I summarize and extract some portions below

He breaks down atemi into three different types:

A Strike as a Technique in Itself:

For example karate, boxing, and striking arts where the strike itself is the technique and causes the damage. This is contrary to Aikido principles since it usually involves serious injury to the opponent and is to be used as a means of last resort.

A Strike as a Means to Facilitate Another Technique

This is very common in Aikido practice where the atemi distracts the opponent and shifts his attention to the atemi rather than the technique in which you are performing. The atemi occupies his ‘mind’.

Some atemi is based out of pain of the strike which according to George, is unreliable to a determined attacker and I have to agree with my experience in boxing. People who are determined to get you expect to get hit a bit and will just ignore it and continue with their attack.

Another atemi merely changes the structure of uke to put you in a position to execute your technique, for example strikes to the back of the thigh to affect a resistant uke’s balance.

The “Not Striking of Striking”

This is perhaps the most interesting use of atemi.

The strike needs to be just fast enough that the attacker can not avoid or block it but is just slow enough that the attacker can respond to it by breaking his posture and taking a fall in order not to be hit. The emphasis on this type of interaction is unique to Aikido. It is actually a valid martial interaction in a type of coded form. An uke trained in the use of strikes as throws will be airborne the instant the strike is perceived.

This can give an onlooker the impression that the attacker is throwing him self. At that point he either decides what he is seeing is bogus and involves the cooperation of both partners or, if mystically inclined, he believes that he is seeing people being thrown energetically, without the need for actual physical contact or force. In fact on one level each of these points of view is true but not for the reasons they would think. The point is that here we are looking at a form of Aikido interaction which doesn’t normally exist outside of the dojo. If one tried to throw an untrained partner without touching him it would merely manifest itself as a strike which hit. The partner would not understand that the agreement exists that I run the strike in just such a way that there is just one “out”, to take the fall.

It is the timing and intention that differentiates the “Not Striking of Striking” and “Strike as a Technique itself”.

Fluid Ni-dan Test @ Monterey Dojo

Remember that awesome Sho-Dan test you saw the other day? Here is some more from the same ‘lineage‘.

Take a look at the fluidity at which the tachidori techniques are done here. There are visible jujitsu influences here (for e.g. the atemi with a kick) and you can see some interesting counters (kaeshi-waza) which do not form part of the official Aikikai syllabus but I still think it remains very much Aikido.

Take a look at their test requirements here. Time to really step up our training!

What does a Sho-Dan mean?

Congratulations to Zachariah to achieving his Sho-Dan rank!

I would just like to quickly share my thoughts on this. Many students, after reaching the level of sho-dan, decide that it’s the end of a journey from there and they are now experts in Aikido. At least in our dojo and under Shihan Yamada, this is not the case, it merely indicates an understanding of the basic techniques and movements of Aikido. In other words, the pure physical aspect, which is why under the Aikikai Hombu grading system, there is only limited randoori (free-style) for the sho-dan test.

When I got my sho-dan in 1999, I was told by Shihan that this was just the beginning. It means you are now a beginner and this is where your real journey starts in Aikido and I couldn’t agree more. My Aikido has a long way to go before I see myself as truly proficient but only after I achieved my sho-dan was I able to start exploring what Aikido was to me beyond just going through the techniques. In fact, I had to relearn much of my Aikido.

After sho-dan, you explore balance, how techniques flow into one another and each technique’s use and place. One of the pinnacles of Aikido is to achieve a level where you no longer think of doing a technique but it just flows out according to the circumstances without thought but merely out of a body reflex developed from many years of training. I think all of us at Seishinkan are still learning and striving for this goal.

Of course there are dojos in the West that see Sho-dan as an expert level belt which is what the common perception of a black belt is. Therefore some of these dojos have testing requirements are a lot more stringent with their 3rd kyu tests being similar to Aikikai Hombu’s Sho-dan test. The gap decreases between the two as the dan ranks go up but the sho-dan disparity is probably where it is the greatest mostly due to the perception of what a black belt is in the west. There is nothing wrong with either approach either but it’s worth making the distinction between the grading system adopted by Aikikai Hombu and others.

At the end of the day, we reiterate that at Seishinkan, we are not too concerned with belt ranks hence why we adopt an only two color belt system (white, black)( which has the added benefit of saving money in buying a belt after every upgrading and reducing the risk that the belts leak funny colors out on your gi! :P) The upgrading system is there as a benchmark and for those who wish to achieve recognition but it’s by no means the only indication of true understanding of Aikido. For example, I feel Desmond’s understanding of Aikido is better than mine, and my new rank of san-dan does not change any of that. Even now, I’m constantly learning new things even from my ‘juniors’ and I think it’s important to realize that everyone can teach you something regardless of rank.

This doesn’t detract from the achievement Zachariah has achieved today and we all wish him a big congratulations. We look forward to seeing you on the mats :P…or else…we’ll implement a ‘rite of passage’ just for you!

PS: This doesn’t mean we should stop bugging Desmond to go for a long overdue upgrading.


Confirmation of Plans with Sekishin

Just to let you know that in the event you are unavailable to attend the seminar, Sekishin has kindly allowed us to bring our students to Sekishin Dojo to observe the upgrading and participate in any training session after the upgrading.

This is on Saturday from 2.00 PM onwards where we will have our dan upgradings with Shihan Yamada.

Please let us know as to how many of you would want to participate in this as well since space is limited. Thanks!

Seminar at Sekishin & Upgrading Announcement

Sekishin Dojo has kindly invited us to participate in their seminar held by Shihan Jun Yamada (7th dan) on the following times:

Venue: Sekishin Dojo 3rd FLR, S/L 11, Lot 44 & 45, Jalan Kulas Kuching Sarawak

13 May Friday: 8.30 pm – 10.00pm
14 May Saturday: 9.00 am – 12.00pm

The fee for this seminar is RM100.00 per head which is the same as what Sekishin students are paying to Shihan.

We have a limited number of slots with a maximum of 8 people from Seishinkan


We will also a hold a joint upgrading with Sekishin at Sekishin dojo on the 14 May Saturday: 2.00pm onwards

For those of you eligible for upgrading, please confirm your attendance on this with Sensei Desmond.