Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pay attention - aikido is not circular.

Some folks like to characterize aikido as a circular martial art. Some folks like to talk about various styles that may be more (Aikikai, Ki society) circular or less (Tomiki) circular. Some of these folks have even characterized Tomiki aikido as being linear instead of circular (and thus, not really aikido). At first glance, it may appear that our aikido is a more flowing, circular form of the Tomiki aikido from which it evolved.
I hate to break it to y'all, but there is no such thing as circular motion in the context of human movement. People can't move in a circle. People can't even move in straight lines either, so you can't characterize aikido as linear vs. circular. People move in a series of short line segments and short arcs, zig-zagging left and right across a central tendency of direction. The closest to circular motion that we can make is standing on one foot and turning around the hip joint, which is an arc, but cannot be continued into a circle without stepping a line between arcs.
Following is a pretty good video of Bruce Frantzis 'walking a circle' in Bagua practice. I think this provides a pretty good example of what I'm talking about - movement that looks circular but if you look closer, is actually complex linear motion. Incidently, if I remember rightly, Bruce Frantzis is one of the proponents of the idea that Aikido evolved from Chinese martial arts like Bagua, or that Aikido and Bagua had common ancestors... Interesting... For more on that tangent, check out Dojo Rat's posts on Bruce Frantzis' Bagua and Aikido and Bagua.
Here's another CMA guy who is talking about 'walking in circles' and I think it is perhaps more obvious in this vid that the circles are actually lines...
Sometimes it can be a useful mental construct to imagine that your motion is circular, and not to put too fine a  point on it, but if you want to be careful and precise, pay attention and you will see the same motions as lines and arcs. I find it more useful (most of the time) to work in reality (lines and arcs) than in idealized mental constructs (circles).


  1. Well Pat; maybe you are splitting hairs on this one.
    Let me begin by saying the second video looks more like a traditional Hawiian native fighting system, so I won't comment on that. As far as Bruce Frantzis, one step is a straight line. As long as the outside toe is pointing inward, continued stepping will result in a large circle. There are also circles within circles. If you were to take his arm motions against the white wall with a black marker pen, they would represent large arcs. Those may not be complete circles, but elipses or the like.
    My point would be, compared to Karate, these motions are indeed much more circular. In my thought, the circle defeats linear motion.
    I think I see where you are going, but I'm not quite there...

  2. Sorry, the last comment did not post completely.
    In my thought, the circular motion defeats linear motion, but both are used together.

  3. Maybe I am splitting hairs, or maybe I just need a better video to show why what I'm talking about is important, but, consider this:

    1) sure, you can draw a circle on the floor with a compass and walk with your center of balance (mostly) above the circle on the floor. You are right that one step is a line and with multiple steps we can approximate a circle, but...

    2) if you are attacked and you set in your mind that the appropriate technique is 'circular' then you are already programmed to make multiple steps along that planned circular path. If badguy takes one step and you program multiple steps then you are not being responsive but proactive. You have decided to do your own thing instead of whatever the situation calls for. the possibility of sensitivity and synchronization are out the window (or at least difficult to attain)you have taken off on your own path, hoping to drag the bad guy along for a ride.

    3) but if he takes one step and you take one step and bump him into offbalance then you have the potential to be sensitive and responsiive in a synchronized and appropriate way.

    ...and when I say, "you" I meant the universal you, not you, Dojo Rat, in partiicular. I'm not attacking you...

  4. It is a common mis-conception about taijiquan training that it uses circles. It begins with squares. Then the edges of the squares are rounded. Skip the square and the result is just a messy blob of powerless fluff.

    That is one of the worst bagua videos Kumar did (but he looks worse now). In that video he has almost no shrinking and expanding--thus there is no spherical power.

    The two arms can be made into a ring, or intersecting rings, which are useful against straight line attacks. But spherical rolling movement based on 3 dimensional expansion and contraction allows for spiraling force vectors that are nearly impossible to stop.

    Once a person develops this spiral power, it should become a continuous unbroken routine--a skill which makes improvisation easy.

    The only problem with the arc or the line segment is that each one has to stop and connect to another one--unless your opponent has already cried uncle.

  5. Maybe the circularity is conceptual rather than physical? My definition of hard style is not so much focused on linear acceleration but on the dislocation of the opponent's centre of gravity. Hard stylists take over the person's COG as they strike the opponent. AIkido practitioners seem to disrupt the opponent's COG as they throw or lock or small circle their opponents. The circularity is much more descriptive of aikido practitioners than for hard stylists. COlin

  6. I tend to agree with Colin;
    Perhaps there are no true circles or straight lines. Everything is a variable. As far as Colin's point, even in Hsing-Yi which is a Chinese Internal art but very, very linear (compared to bagua or Aikido) the object is to "occupy" the opponent's space, hence taking over opponent's COG.
    This may morph into a post on Dojo Rat for my further thoughts.
    And Pat, come on, I never take anything personal. I really love the discussion, even if it gets a little rowdy sometimes. We have a great brain trust on all the blogs, and all you guys are well respected.

  7. Now there is a dichotomy i can sink my teeth into - whether or not an art (as a general rule) seeks to disrupt an opponent's center and occupy his space or spin off of him, redirect his center, etc...

    if that is how you are going to define 'linear' then "I'd certainly agree with the folks that say aikido is ...

    ...wait for it...

    LINEAR! The first couple of years of our aiki syllabus primarily involves evading an oncoming force, then seeking the right time and place to crash through that center of force, occupying his space in order to project him away from you. Later we get into more 'circular' things that project uke while separating your center from him.

    Glad you're not offended, Rat. Sometimes, reading back over my posts and comments I sound too strident to myself, but it is certainly not my intent to offend y'all - even when you are blatantly ignorantly wrong ;-)

  8. The concepts of circularity and linearity are useful depending on the level of the people in the discussion. Naturally those distinctions disappear at a certain level.

    But at a lower level the distinction is useful so the student doesn't get overwhelmed with info he/she can't make sense of.

    I try (unsuccessfully usually) to remind myself not to throw out useful but naturally limited concepts and not to be too strident about definitions.

    We're dealing with imperfect expressions of imperfect arts.

  9. Just to further split the hair here, would it be helpful to think of "rotational" movement as the missing link between "circular" and "linear" motion? Whether we're talking about the rotation of our feet, hips, wrists, shoulder joints, etc, or the rotation of our center around our partners' center (some aiki-like deflections come to mind)?

    In the first video, could you say that the guy's percieved circular movement is actually rotation facilitated by technically more linear motions of his feet, trunk, etc?

  10. Pat's first comment about a preprogrammed path inspired me. What creates circular arcs in the throws and joint locks we do in jujitsu is the maintenance of a particular relationship, a particular feeling between ourselves and uke.

    In our school, all students run afoul of this, and have to convert from using the "preprogrammed path" to "maintaining a relationship". Before they get to that stage, talk about circles is valuable to them, but after it, it isn't. As Dave says.

    As an analogy, when we draw the circle, it's done attaching a string to the pencil, and keeping the string at a certain level of tension. If the other end of the string is tied down, what results is a circle. But if it does move, we get some other sort of arc. Our intentions are not on making a perfect circle, but on keeping a certain amount of tension on the string. Until we decide to do something else, that is.

  11. Wow, Jay, I think it's been a while since I inspired someone ;-) You're right on about maintaining the relationship, the tension between uke and tori creating the arcs we see in these things we do.

  12. Not to be cruel, but I have been doing aikido for more than a decade, after five years of tai chi, and the circles are most clearly present. If I placed computer markers on my hands that showed their movement through the technique, they would describe (as far as I am able) perfect circles as they lead the attacker through the technique. I find the more perfect my circles, the more I hear feedback like "fast" or "smooth", etc.

  13. aikido student,

    your comment was not cruel at all ;-)

    As for putting markers on and letting a computer watch your path of motion - you're right (sorta).

    I bet if you put the markers on your hands then you could describe large arcs, ellipses, and perhaps near-perfect circles. But put those same markers on your center of mass - say for instance each ASIS - and I bet what you'd see is your center of mass zigging and zagging in straight lines that vary in length between about 1/4 and 1/2 of your hip height.

    Your center of mass most certainly does not move in circles. You only have two feet. When you shift weight from one to the other the motion of your center describes a line segment. The way that you get the illusion of moving in a circle is by throwing in a lot of extra joints between the center and the wrist and articulating those joints as you move in a line.


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