O Sensei’s Rules for Training

Another one dug up from the archives… Eventually the quality content might run out and some original material will have to go up, but until then, please enjoy. If anyone can help identify the original source of O Sensei’s Rules for Training I would appreciate it!

001_akd1. Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.

2. Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front, but to all sides and the back.

3. Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.

4. The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.

5. In daily practice first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.

6. The purpose of aikido is to train mind and body and to produce sincere, earnest people. Since all the techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead to their being used by hoodlums.


Tatoian Sensei’s dojo always had a copy of O Sensei’s Rules hanging up to remind students what it was we were all practicing.

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Three Techniques That Have Everything

O’Sensei once said that a student could learn all the basics of aikido if he practiced just three techniques: 1)tai-no-henko, 2)morotedori-kokyuho, and 3)suwariwaza-kokyuho. Given the seemingly endless number of different waza and their variations, how is it possible to encompass aikido in just these three primary techniques?

Morihiro Saito-Sensei begins his “Takemusu Aikido” (Vol. I) instruction book with these same three techniques. There is something special happening here.  Takemusu Aikido Association dojos, following in the tradition of Morhiro Saito-Sensei, incorporate these three techniques into every day of training.  Every taijutsu class in Traditional Aikido of Sonoma dojos (Sebastopol, Petaluma, Rohnert Park) includes time spent on these three techniques.  Through these three techniques it is possible to unlock deeper principles contained within Takemusu Aikido.

Morote Dori Kokyu Ho

Morote Dori Kokyu Ho

Tae No Henko

Tae No Henko

These three principles of aikido are kokyu-ryoku, tai-no-sabaki, and ki-no-musubi. Each of these principles is used to properly train and execute every aikido technique. Kokyu-ryoku is your extension, your breath, your ki. O’Sensei called extension the “circle of steel”. It can also be thought of as your sphere. Literally, kokyu-ryoku means “breath power”, or learning to coordinate breath with movement. When you understand when to breathe in, when to breathe out, then aikido becomes a moving meditation.

Tai-no-sabaki is “body movement”. But it means more than just stepping here or there. Tai-no-sabaki has kokyu-ryoku integrated into it, so that when you step, slide, or pivot, you always have your breath, extension, sphere. Without kokyu-ryoku in tai-no-sabaki, you are only walking around.

Students who have practiced both aikido and t’ai-chi have said they find many similarities between the two arts. To someone who has not practiced either one of these, this may seem a confusing statement. For an advanced aikido student, techniques are executed quickly, in a blur. T’ai-chi, on the other hand, appears quite slow and deliberate. But the coordination of breath with movement, the sinking of your center, the sphere, are the same in both.

Finally, ki-no-musubi literally means “knotting or tying up ki”. This principle is closely tied to the concept of setsuzoku, or “connection”. It is the act of merging with uke’s movements at the very instant they appear. As every person is different, so is every ki. You must adapt. Ki-no-musubi is tying up your ki with that of your partner’s, so that when he moves, you move. Setsuzoku must be present, otherwise you cannot merge your ki with your partner’s. If your mind wanders, or is clogged with the affairs of the day, proper ki-no-musubi cannot be executed.

Looking at the three basic aikido symbols can give us a hint: the triangle, circle, and square relate to the above principles in deeper ways. It has been said that the triangle is the body; the circle is the movement; and the square is the harmony that is created by ai-ei-ki, or two triangles together.

So how does all this relate to the Three Techniques That Have Everything? While there are countless techniques a student can practice, tai-no-henko, morotedori-kokyuho, and suwariwaza-kokyuho have a purity about them that belies their simplicity.

Even though other techniques use all three principles mentioned above, these three techniques do so without clutter. The turning in tai-no-henko is that most basic movement we use in so many other techniques. Maintaining good setsuzoku, connection, in morotedori-kokyuho is very challenging, yet it provides the basis for understanding connection and merging with your partner in all other techniques. A strong person can always out-muscle a weaker person in a “wrestling match”, but if suwariwaza-kokyuho is done properly—if breath power, body movement, and merging are present—then a 100 pound nage can topple a 250 pound uke every time.

You may like to think of these three techniques as a sort of carpenter’s toolkit: what you use them to build, and the quality of your construction, will define the excellence of the sphere inside which your aikido practice takes place.


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The Ideal Hanmi in Aikido

The classic aikido stance, or hanmi, appears simple. As with just about everything else pertaining to this art, however, there’s more to it than just standing with your feet perpendicular to each other.

The stance we use in aikido comes from the bukiwaza (weapons technique) ken stance. Hanmi, balance, and movement all come from the bokken (wooden sword). For a beginner just picking up the bokken for the first time, this concept may not be self-evident. But swinging the bokken—with all its integration of movement with the hips—develops balance, power, coordination, and teaches us where to find our center.

The mechanics of the stance are as follows: Point your front foot straight ahead. Turn your rear foot until it is approximately perpendicular to the front foot. Align the ball of your front foot with the ball of your rear foot; this creates the triangular stance. Bend your knees. Your front knee should be in a straight vertical line with the toes of the front foot—in other words, do not bend your knee so far that it hangs past your toes. Your weight is evenly placed between both feet, as though your weight is going down from your center, between your feet, and into the ground.

Like so:


O’Sensei called this stance ushiro-sankaku (rear triangle). Your weight sits in this triangle, relaxed, centered. Drop your hips. Imagine a line going from the top of your head, down through your hara (center), hips, between your feet, and into the ground to the center of the earth. If you can achieve this mental state, your body will be immovable.

Another tip that will help your technique is to make sure that your center is pointed at your partner’s center. This means that if your partner is standing at 12:00 from you, then your center should be pointing to 12:00. Your hips will naturally follow.

Waza movements, which seem so natural once you learn them, may cause a beginning aikido student to feel some initial frustration. There is so much to remember—triangle stance, bend knees, drop hips, center-to-center, keep extension, relax—and this is even before you begin the movements that make up the technique.

That beginner may feel as if he has suddenly lost all coordination when attempting morotedori-kokyuho. His extension collapses. He loses the connection with his partner. He forgets to drop his hips. And he never reaches that point of feeling the effortless, morotedori-kokyuho “wheel” sensation, where uke drops to the mat as if by magic.

A common reaction for a beginner in this state is to lose contact with his stance. Like a child who is first learning to walk, he may shift weight onto his toes as his body tenses. As we know from watching a toddler take those first tentative steps, there is a lot of stumbling, balance lost, falling. So even though moving up on your toes seems to be an instinctive reaction, it is exactly the wrong reaction. You will need to develop new instincts.

An exercise that may help break a student of this inherent instinct—as an intermediatesolution—is to settle your weight back on your heels. Don’t actually raise your toes, but think of shifting your weight back from your toes to your heels. Practice moving like this. You should almost immediately feel your weight sinking, your hips dropping, your self more in touch with the ground.

Ultimately, you are aiming to have your weight evenly distributed over the entire surface of your feet, which should be flat on the ground. But the heel exercise can help get you off your toes, and hook you into your stance. Once you begin to get the idea of what it feels like to be grounded, work on spreading your weight out over your entire foot.

A beginning aikidoka, if he practices regularly, may find with just a few weeks of training that he is walking differently. This can be a joyful discovery. He feels closer and more connected to the ground. He moves as if gliding, the steps coming from his hips rather than the legs or feet. Suddenly he is not so easy to put down when he is acting as uke during taijutsu. And he will find that he is performing his own waza better.

For anyone who has trained aikido for any length of time, you know that if you mess up right at the beginning of a technique, it is unlikely you will salvage the rest of the technique. Aikido waza—much like the Japanese language—is made of basic parts that fit together to make a greater whole. Your hanmi is about as basic as it gets. If your stance is incorrect, you probably won’t get very good results in your technique. Perfect this most basic of concepts, and the rest of your practice will start to flow.


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