Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tomiki's atemi - maybe not what you think

Photo courtesy of Jeremylim
Tomiki Sensei apparently had a fundamentally different concept of atemi than we usually think about - not your typical karate strike. Tomiki's atemiwaza was not about using impulse (sudden change in acceleration) to injure the opponent. Tomiki's idea of atemiwaza appears to have been to impact the opponent with your whole body mass during the opponent's footfall with the goal of knocking the opponent off his feet. Tomiki's atemiwaza are throws - not punches or chops.
The following is excerpted from an essay by Tomiki on the Modernization of Jujutsu. The original text can be found at
Aikido is much the same as judo because the origins of both reside in the ancient schools of jujutsu. If we generally classify the kinds of techniques (waza) in the ancient schools of jujutsu, there are four categories:
  • Nage-waza (throwing techniques)
  • Katame-waza (locking techniques)
  • Atemi-waza (striking techniques)
  • Kansetsu-waza (joint techniques)
Among these, many nage-waza and some katame-waza have been collected into the system of training that is "competition judo" (judo kyogi), and various atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza have been collected into the system of training that is "competition aikido" (aikido kyogi).
Although one group of kansetsu-waza are included among the katame-waza of competition judo, the many varieties of kansetsu-waza (and their implementation) should be combined with the atemi-waza into a system of training so that these two groups of techniques will be sufficiently revitalized.
Although the atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza can be viewed as techniques that can inflict a severe injury on an opponent, if we study the principles of the martial arts well, we realize that they are exquisite techniques for toppling (taosu) or controlling (osaeru) an opponent without necessarily harming him.
In the same way, the nage-waza and katame-waza of competition judo--in the way they are taught and used by Judo players--are superb techniques that have the same purpose, namely controlling the opponent without injuring him. In this shared sensibility, both competition judo and competition aikido have been derived from the essence of the ancient schools of jujutsu and developed in to modern, competitive sports.
So, Tomiki's atemiwaza are not necessarily about injuring uke - rather, they are about skillfully timing a directed collision so that uke falls down. This is not just a superficial difference in atemi ideas. There are some very important consequences to approaching atemi this way. We will be covering these consequences in the next post or two.
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282
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