SAITO sensei's method #2


The learning methodology created by Saito sensei reveals an extraordinary cleverness regarding the mechanisms of corporal techniques acquisition. It is remarkably efficient to learn quickly and precisely the fundamental elements which constitute Aikido movements. It is of the outmost importance that this method is used, transmitted and preserved.

The study that will follow may lead to think that I have a critical attitude on that method and that I take a distance from it: such a thought would be far from reality, I will never stop repeating that it is the best tool we have at our disposal to lead a beginner on the path of Aikido. This is said loud and clear, must be heard and never forgotten. If not, one should avoid reading the articles that will follow.

The pictures below, extracted from Morihiro Saito sensei's book "Traditional Aikido" clearly indicate the direction in which ikkyo omote must be applied, namely, to keep it simple, towards tori's forward right hand side:

On the next picture (EXHIBIT # 2), compared to the picture # 5, Saito sensei shows a mistake that must be avoided: uke is too far, his left leg is firm on the ground and therefore he is not unbalanced, his right leg is dangerous, his arm is not controlled in front of tori's tanden/stomach, he can escape and maybe counter attack. During his lessons, Saito sensei often explained that the control of uke's arm in front of the tandem is one of ikkyo's essential point:

Let's now have a look at the following pictures which indicate the direction in which nikyo omote must be applied. We can easily see that it is exactly the same one as ikkyo omote: uke's forward right hand side.

Let's compare the picture # 3 of this nikyo series with the picture shown as a mistake by Saito sensei on ikkyo:

Although the angle of the photo shoot is slightly different, we can notice it is the same position (apart from the wrist grab): uke is far from tori, he has a stable point with his left leg, his arm is not controlled in front of tori's tanden.

How is this possible… ?

Because it is inevitable.


The biomechanics of the human body is such that twisting a wrist with nikyo sets the elbow in rotation outwards. For that reason, if nikyo is applied by pushing in the angle of ikkyo, the elbow is automatically sent away from tori. This is inevitable, this a natural law and anyone can check this in the dojo.

Why that problem does not occur with ikkyo?

Because there is a fundamental difference between ikkyo and nikyo:

the immobilisation of ikkyo is done by the lock of the oleacranon on the humerus bone and that lock is impossible if the elbow is set in rotation. With ikkyo, the rotation of uke's arm has started but at this stage it only flips the arm upside down in a simple extension, the elbow and the wrist are not set in rotation, there is no spin applied on the arm.

Nikyo, the next stage, implies that the wrist is set in a rotation which inevitably, because of the anatomy of the arm, leads the elbow into a rotation. This double rotation of the wrist and the elbow forces uke's arm to bend in an half circle: ** nikyo omote is a rotation/spin of uke's arm**. But if that rotation is applied in ikkyo's direction, uke's arm has no choice but to go forward, inevitably far from tori's tanden, which prevents an efficient control.

Therefore the direction of ikkyo allows keeping uke's arm in front of the tanden because this arm is extended without any rotation of the elbow but as soon as the wrist and the elbow are rotated, the direction of ikkyo forbids keeping the arm in front of the tanden.

The only way to avoid that problem with nikyo is to increase the rotation of the body axis on the right, which implies the opening of hito e mi in that direction, as we can see in the pictures below.

The rotation has three major effects :

  1. uke's arm is not sent forward, it comes naturally in place, arched in front of tori's tanden,
  2. uke is properly unbalanced on the right hand side and his left leg has no support on the ground,
  3. tori evades any attack from the rear, he works in a multidirectional way.

The movement is consistent with the principle of spiral, it is executed with a spinning effect, tori rotates on his axis without any step - while the execution in ikkyo's direction is a line, it forces tori to move with a step towards uke as the following pictures show:

This deeper rotation on the body axis obviously modifies the direction of nikyo by some 60 degrees on the right compared to ikkyo (cf Kajo #6).
The consequence of that rotation and its spinning effect is that uke's arm is brought down to the ground, the elbow being higher than the wrist, perpendicular at the end of the movement as we can see in picture 4:

This is the reason why, the arm being perpendicular at the end of the movement, that nikyo's immobilisation is always done with the arm in a vertical position on tori's chest.

That vertical position, specific to nikyo's immobilization, is a consequence of the spinning effect of the deeper rotation of the body and it confirms its necessity. Everything is linked in Aikido and any movement is the inevitable consequence of the previous one.

If ikkyo's immobilization is done with an horizontal position of the arm on the ground, it is because uke's arm arrives in an horizontal way at the end of the movement.

But it happens that nikyo omote's immobilisation is sometimes taught with uke's arm horizontal on the ground with an final quite inefficient twisting of the wrist.

This mistake is perfectly logical, executing nikyo in ikkyo's direction brings uke's arm in an horizontal position:

And since uke's arm ends up in an horizontal position, why would we artificially put it in a vertical position? In a nutshell, since all the requirements for ikkyo's immobilisation are fulfilled, why should we execute nikyo? However, since the practitioner has learned that nikyo requires a twist of the wrist, he tries diligently to show the difference between ikkyo an nikyo with this twist at the very end. But done this way, it is obviously pointless since uke's arm is already locked on the ground in ikkyo's characteristic extension. Twisting the wrist at that moment only invites the elbow to roll forward which is in complete contradiction with the work done so far which precisely tends to prevent the elbow from turning forward...

The whole logical mechanism of this mistake is an absurd evidence that nikyo can't and mustn't be done in the same direction as ikkyo.

This mistake prevents from understanding the difference between shomen ichi nikyo omote et katadori ikkyo omote immobilizations for instance. With this way of doing, uke grabbing tori's shoulder leads tori to turn the hand in the nikyo "form" but the movement remains ikkyo for the essential reason that there is no rotation of the wrist and no spinning of the arm. The wrist is only bent towards the arm which is very different for this does not prevent the action on the olecranon and the lock of the extended arm as we can see on the following pictures:

We can perfectly see on the picture #4 that uke's arm is brought in extension despite the strong rotation of the wrist.

This is not normal, for such a rotation necessarily leads to the rotation of uke's arm. We can see that Saito sensei's left hand is brought forward with this rotation; he has to compensate the rotation forward with an opposition of his arm: this is the only possible way to bring uke's arm back in a correct position in front of tori's stomach before stepping forward, if the choice is made, for reasons that we will explain, to execute nikyo omote in the same angle as ikkyo omote.

Since that action in opposition is not natural, Saito sensei soon releases the spin he initiated on uke's wrist and lets that wrist go up to come back to a pure ikkyo entry:

All the requirements for ikkyo are fulfilled, uke's arm is extended, parallel to the ground, Saito sensei should logically end up with ikkyo's immobilization, which he does not as we can see here:

Why doesn't he apply ikkyo's immobilization? Why, against any logic, does he pull out uke's arm from the horizontal position to bring it in a vertical position to end on his opposite shoulder, with the added risk of losing the control of the arm?

All these questions will find their answers when we have answered the more fundamental question: why did Saito sensei teach ikkyo omote and nikyo omote in the same direction? Is it possible that he didn't know the crucial differences between these two fundamental techniques?

I don't think so. I am convinced he did.

I have an explanation for this anomaly and that explanation will reveal one of Saito sensei's facets that few people know or even suspect, even among those who have lived in Iwama for a long time and use his method on a daily basis for their teaching. Saito was more a secretive and deeper person than most think, his teaching is the result of a fully conscious calculation which still astonishes me with its rigor.

But before going any further, we needs to deal with technical aspects.

Philippe Voarino, may 2013.

What is Traditional Aikido?

Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?

The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo

In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?

Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.
Copyright TAI (Takemusu Aikido Intercontinental)