Friday, March 20, 2009

Properties of the principles of aikido

It's pretty common to hear instructors talk about the principles of aikido being more important than the techniques. The techniques are just instantiations of principle. The principles are what you actually do and the technique is what happens. But here are a couple of properties of the principles that some of you may or may not have thought about.
  • The principles are mutually-reinforcing. Becoming a little better at any one of them makes all of the other principles work better. When you find something wrong with your techniques, you can almost randomly pick a principle to focus on and the technique will start working better.
  • The principles are an ordered set. While the greatest masters of aikido might do all the principles all the time, the rest of us peons generally benefit from getting the principles in a certain order.
There might be some disagreement about the exact order, but in general, you want to get the major principles of aikido working in the following order. If you find a problem with a technique, then start with relaxation, then posture, and so on trying to repair the technique...

  • relaxation
  • shizentai (posture)
  • metsuke (eye control)
  • ashi sabaki (footwork)
  • ki-musubi (synchronization with the opponent)
  • ma-ai (personal space and timing)
  • move offline (the aiki-brushoff)
  • orenaite (unbendable arm) and kite (ki-hands)
  • kuzushi (off-balancing the opponent)
  • atemi (striking the opponent down)
  • osaekomi (suppressing the opponent)
  • zanshin (remaining aware)
Notice that kuzushi, atemi, and osaekomi (the majority of what you think of as aikido) are at the end of the list. There is a whole pile of things you need to set in order before you worry too much about offbalancing the other guy or hitting him or holding him down.


  1. Nice list. It is funny how rarely I see a list of principles. I think there are a great many principles that words have not even been found for.

    Metsuke is an interesting one. I am a teacher of visually impaired students, and a stage magician. We all use eyes in different ways.

    I have not founf a good rule for eyes that I am comfortable with yet.

    Thanks Sensei!

  2. Ha, good point - re: a great many principles that words haven't been found for. There is one word that covers all those vague, intuitive pseudo-principles as well as all the ones I listed. It's called 'aiki.'

    I have also had a blind aikido student. We worked a lot with maai and sensitivity and I let her do whatever she wanted to regarding metsuke. I figure she had already mostly learnt as good a set of eye control principles as any I coul teach her.

    I usually try to keep my eyes pointed through the center of mass of the opponent's head and focussed into the distance. I also try to do evasions so that I get into shikaku (the dead angle) such that it's hard for him to look through my head.

  3. Excellent.

    In your view what are the main commonalities / differences between Judo (and for that matter Karate) at the level of principles?

  4. great post, Pat, and I have to admit, Im curious as to Dan's question as well. :) Hope you've recovered from Ross' attempted assassination.

    si vales, valeo.


  5. Now I know what the osaekomi time in judo actually means!


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