This article has been submitted by a very Senior Aikidoka but wishes that his name is not used as he feels the article should be read and understood on its on merit.
In my aikido journey I have encountered many ways of executing aikido. Many are spiritually based and the tranquility of their dojos enable me to see why O Sensei believed that aikido might contribute to the spread of world peace. A few, from the other end of the aikido spectrum, can demonstrate quite painfully how effective aikido can be. After training, conversation inevitably turns towards our styles or our teachers. But discussion immediately evolves around overt movements. These overt movements are seen as the correct way to execute a technique and as overt movements are as many as aikido is creative, discussion of aikido seems to end inconclusively and in disagreement. The purpose behind this article is to offer a format to discuss aikido. My intention is not to highlight the differing overt movements or pain thresholds, which historically have divided us, but to focus on mechanical constructs which by definition do not require strength or pain to be effective, that enhance our overt movements and which permeate all techniques. By studying these constructs in a moving form, mechanical movement, I hope to raise discussion of aikido to aikido itself and find the unity in our aikido.
At a basic level, different Styles appear to have the same overt movements. In other words, if shiho nage were performed by any aikidoka it would be recognised as shiho nage by any other aikidoka. However, with a little more experience, small differences are seen in these overt movements which are then linked to a Style or Association. It is like a Style has a physical signature.
I do not see aikido this way, because with more experience still, one can see differences within overt movements, not only within every Style but within every dojo of that Style. This results from the mixture of Style, teacher and physical characteristics. To criticise an aikidoka’s technique on the basis of overt movements, borders on xenophobia (when leveled at a Style), disrespect (when leveled at a teacher) or downright rudeness (when leveled at physical characteristics).
Kamae is a vital part of aikido. It shows how one’s body is prepared for defence: a still body and a quiet mind; a stance poised to turn or move forward, without prior movement; a readiness to catch the attacker’s energy; and a means by which one can transmit one’s power to the contact point. At the highest level, all the constructs are contained within kamae, making it an article for discussion in its own right. However, I feel mechanical movement is perhaps the place to start.
In order to discuss mechanical movement, esoteric terms are necessary. Initially they will provide a universal language for us to use. Definitions of mechanical constructs, written in italics, are shown in the glossary. Mechanical movement is a generic term for the way the body moves to maintain and employ mechanical constructs to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a technique. Indeed, the whole emphasis of mechanical movement is to show that it is the body form, not upper-body strength, that is the first step towards taking an attacker’s energy and enhancing it with one’s power; the very basis of aikido.
As contact is made by the attacker, that side of one’s body becomes the contact side and the other is the shadow side. As one progresses through a technique, contact and shadow sides can be swapped as a dynamic contact point is established. For this reason and for effective triangulation, the hips need to be square to the balance line. The source of physical power comes from the rear foot. If toe power is to be transmitted to the contact point, the contact line should be visualised as straight and kept as close to the body form as possible. Hence a straight spine needs to be maintained in preparation for such a transmission of power from rear foot to contact point. The contact point is best located by triangulation to the hips. If the hips are square, then the contact point is effectively located and remains on the central plane. To ensure that the attacker’s energy is directed to the hips and that one’s own power transmitted to the contact point, the arms are slightly bent to enable this energy/power transmission. If the arms were straight then the contact line would be routed through the shoulders, making a straight contact line impossible. However, with “kamae arms”, the contact line is routed down the forearm, across the gap from elbow to hips then down through the hips to the rear foot. This is not an easy line to envisage as the elbow does not stay on route as some techniques progress, however, with subliminal movements it is a line that is felt. For identical reasons of energy/power transmission, the rear leg invariably needs to be straight. Primarily, motion in aikido occurs when one rotates about the front foot or when one pushes forward from the rear foot. If these movements are to be made without first making a movement of balance adjustment, then weight distribution is important. Consequently, weight distribution is at a point where these frequently used movements can be made as first movements. Indeed, all these constructs make one’s whole body form, from rear foot to contact point, part of a network of points and lines that have a common format that is not technique based and are there to make one’s balance more stable, to eradicate minor additional movements and to make subliminal movements effective.
As one’s begins the overt movements, mechanical movement shows the quality of one’s aikido by the way these constructs operate simultaneously as required, from kamae to disengagement, to maintain each other and to give an efficient, effective and fluid technical strength to the overt movements.
Beyond mechanical movement
Mechanical movement is just the first category of movement that permeates all techniques. In my dojo, this is taught up to 4th kyu. However, as one’s understanding of aikido develops, movement becomes more subtle. For example, the next category of movement, taught up to 1st kyu, is subliminal movement. These movements are less obvious but nevertheless greatly increase the efficiency of a technique and again permeate in all techniques. The object of subliminal movement is to impair the attacker’s constructs and consciously bring the attacker’s centre of gravity to the edge or beyond his base. In other words, aikido now incorporates one’s own physical constructs with movements that both impair and control an attacker. Later, as one enters the dan grades and begins one’s study of aikido, conceptual movement, which again permeates all techniques, gradually enables one to perform what appears to students to be magic, but to oneself, is still simply movement.
Body Form the extension of kamae into a moving form, allowing mechanical constructs to be effective and efficient.
Balance Line is the forward-extended straight line passing through the heels, sometimes envisaged as a tight-rope.
Central Plane refers to a plane defined by the balance line and the power line. It is in front of one’s body extending from one’s forehead to one’s front knee in a curve prescribed by one’s hand. The elbow is never straightened as the contact point would be overextended thus loosing triangulation, energy capture and power transmission.
Contact Line is a line from the rear foot to the contact point. The closer it is to the body form, the more powerful it is.
Contact Point is the point at which attacker and defender are united. It can change throughout the technique but is always on or near the central plane.
Power Line is a line from the back foot to the head. The spine is facing forwards, hence the hips are orthogonal to this line.
Square Hips All the vertebrae of the spine are facing forward along the balance line.
Straight Spine describes the way in which the hips are kept upright in order to make the small of the back have as little curvature as possible.
Toe Power is the source of one’s physical power that comes from the rear foot being in contact with the ground.
Triangulation is the way the contact point is located about one’s central plane. It is most easily visualised as an isosceles triangle from an overhead camera whose base is the width of the hips with the arms as the other two sides holding the contact point at their apex. Alternatively, observed from the side, it is seen as the extension of the forearms to the hips (a poor geometrical triangle, but a useful technical construct).
Weight Distribution is the position of the bent front knee to enable one to make a forward or rotational motion without redistributing one’s weight.