Saito sensei's method #5


The learning methodology created by Saito sensei displays 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.

We can check that the direction in which gokyo omote is applied is identical to the direction of ikkyo omote, nikyo omote, sankyo omote and yonkyo omote, as analysed in MS #2, MS #3 and MS #4 : tori's right front.

Let's notice a "detail" that will become quite important after a few explanations: even though the eventual direction is the same, we can clearly see on the pictures #3 and #4 that Saito sensei is forced to bring uke's arm for a second in the opposite direction before "going back" in ikkyo omote's direction:

Indeed he used to explain in Iwama that this "change of direction "was indispensable and that one can't bring uke down as directly as in ikkyo mote because of the reverse grab of the wrist.

Let's keep this in mind and let's see how O sensei applied gokyo:

O sensei does not go at all in ikkyo omote's direction, in reality he goes in the opposite direction to ikkyo omote by 180°. That direction is precisely the direction Saito sensei recommended and that he uses for a second before resuming his movement in ikkyo omote's direction.

This gokyo as done by O sensei is generally decoded by most practitioners as a gokyo ura. It has been analysed in Kajo #13 and Kajo #18,and doing it again here would be pointless, reading these articles will be more useful. But I ask a simple question: if indeed it was gokyo ura (see pictures below), how would be called the movement Saito sensei designates as gokyo ura and which goes in the exact opposite direction if we compare it with the direction O sensei used ?

Maybe another gokyo ura… 180° opposite to O sensei's gokyo ura…?

Having reached that point an explanation becomes necessary.

We have taken the habit of considering any rotation of the body to the rear as an ura movement. This must be corrected: in fact here is no rotation "to the rear", the axis rotates on itself or, say, revolves / spin on itself: that is the origin of any Aikido movement, its core principle. This rotation of the axis on itself gives birth to two things simultaneously: the rotation of one hip forward and the rotation of one hip backward, necessarily, because the hips are attached to the spine. Nature has decided so, this is not a human decision or interpretation, noone can contradict anatomy.

The rotation of the hips is what makes visible the rotation of the axis

  1. As long as the rotation is done on the same spot, there is no movement in space: tori's feet pivot with different angles but without leaving their position. Therefore, inevitably, a hip does irimi and the other does tenkan simultaneously. That dynamic relation uniting hips is called by a name which is only the pure sole description of these complementary actions: irimi tenkan.

  2. As it happens, the maximum span of that rotation is 180° for a human body. Going further without moving the body is impossible. Reached that maximum point of 180 °, the rotation on the axis, if it goes further, necessarily drags the legs. Again, nature has decided so.

The rotation can bring tori's back leg forward or his front leg backward as decided in that crucial moment. This choice is tori's freedom. The body then moves forward or backward. The name given to that action is but a description of what is happening: tai no henka which can be translated as body movement.

Tai no henka thus describes equally a movement of the body forward or backward. If the back leg is brought forward by the irimi hip forward, we find ikkyo omote, shiho nage, kaiten nage… If the front leg is brought backward, we find tai no henka, the fundamental movement which begins any Aikido training - the basis of all ura movements - therefore ikkyo ura, shiho nage ura… and gokyo ura.

On the pictures, O sensei rotate's 180 °, stops at that maximum point and brings uke down. To name that movement ura, O sensei should go further that maximum point and therefore would need to bring his right leg backward which would imply to move his body (tai no henka) and would bring him in uke's back where the technique would end. This is precisely what Saito sensei does and this is why the technique he explains is called gokyo ura while the technique shown by O sensei can only logically be gokyo omote.

This being clear, the true question is therefore: why should gokyo omote be done in a 180° opposite direction to ikkyo omote? The answer is to be found in the grab. It is not always understood that the gokyo grab is inverted at 180 ° from the ikkyo grab as can we can see in the following pictures:

This point is fundamental and has a direct consequence: if the gokyo grab is kept as it should, as indicated above, and without moving of an inch, applying gokyo omote in the same direction as ikkyo omote is impossible. I invite all practitioners to try it: they will experience that they can't prevent their shoulder (the shoulder of the hand which holds uke's wrist) from going up unnaturally in a way that makes the technique impossible, unless using a good deal of muscular strength.

What happens if however we want to apply gokyo omote in the same direction as ikkyo omote? We are forced to modify the grab on uke's wrist, letting "'slip" the hand around that wrist in order to lower the shoulder. That natural necessity can be easily checked during training. Even more, one can check by comparing the pictures below that Saito sensei does exactly that. While O sensei does not change one millimetre from the beginning to the end, Saito sensei clearly slips 90° on uke's wrist:

But there is a great difference between the authentic gokyo grab and that "adapted" grab. This explains the "detail" we mentioned at the beginning of this article which consists in bringing uke's in the opposite direction for a second before resuming its course in ikkyo omote's direction: This is the inevitable compromise to the true direction, the necessary movement and time to modify the grab if one really wants to end gokyo omote in ikkyo omote's direction.

The inevitable conclusion of the wonderful logic of the human body is that the gokyo wrist grab - 180° oppositee to ikkyo - implies applying gokyo omote at 180° from ikkyo omote. This is not a human choice, this is imposed by the universe which created the human body as it is**:

The proof of that intimate relation between gokyo and ikkyo is that the principle of the control of the arm is, just like ikkyo, the lock of the humerus on the olecranon: uke's arm is controlled in extension in both techniques while with nikyo, sankyo and yonkyo, uke's arm is controlled by the spin/twist. It is the same immobilisation but applied at 180°. If we take a coin, there is head and tails but it is the same coin. The same logic applies to ikkyo and gokyo: some details seem different but it is the same technique.

Ikkyo and gokyo are two facets of the same movement, they can't be separated. This is the reason why O sensei used the same word to designate ikkyo and gokyo: he used to say ippo (cf. Kajo #13) because he talked about the same thing.

He never said gokyo: it is modernity, because it couldn't understand that relation anymore, which has decided to use two different names. This is how the "fifth immobilization" was born, gokyo. Because it is well adapted against a knife attack (contrary to ikkyo), it has been elevated to the rank of a specific technique but in reality gokyo is just the hidden side of ikkyo. Strictly speaking, there aren't five fundamental immobilizations but four. Quite logically since a human wrist has only four sides (cf. MS #4). These four sides are at the origin of the four laws, ippo, nipo, sanpo, yonpo (cf. Kajo #20).

By adjusting the wrist grab, Saito sensei bends the kokyu principle which determine that in Aikido both hands work in synergy (both in supination or both in pronation). On picture #4, the hands work in opposition - the right hand is in supination, the left hand is in pronation:

What differentiates the two pictures above is what differentiates a compromise - imposed by the chosen work methodology - from the true technique. The eventual position of the hands can't be correct in the sense that the initial position is equally incorrect:

While the ikkyo grab is ideal for the control in the ikkyo direction, the gonkyo grab is ideal for an opposite control at 180 °. This control is gained in direct and logical way with a spiral. The way Saito sensei goes "back and forth" makes the movement more complex and demands the adjustments we just analysed.

Saito sensei lived 23 years with O sensei in Iwama, from 1946 to 1969 he had the privilege to train alone with the Founder on a daily basis, he was fully aware of gokyo necessities. Why then did he force himself to teach gokyo omote in the same direction as ikkyo omote, using compromises which seem at first sight hard to understandable from a man who had the full knowledge?

The more I understand about the choices he made and the reasons that motivated him, the greater my respect and esteem for him and therefore the need for more prudence and cautiousness in explaining what I have to explain still.

Philippe Voarino, June 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)