After examining the structure and organisation of a number of technical curricula from other Japanese Martial Arts, I realised that the Aikido Curriculum is arranged, from basic to advanced, in a completely different and unique way to these other arts. There are no secret techniques in Aikido, nor does it draw any distinction between Shoden, Chuden, Hiden and Okuden levels of teaching that the Koryu (Classical) arts do. Instead, Aikido techniques are graded from basic to advanced by levels of technical complexity, both in taijutsu (hand-techniques) and bukiwaza (weapons). While probably not as extensive as the curriculum of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu or other Koryu arts, Iwama Aikido does retain a large number of techniques as compared to other styles of Aikido.
Techniques are divided into three main groups, Aiki Tai-jutsu (body techniques, or empty-hand), Aiki Ken jutsu (sword techniques) and Aiki Jo jutsu (stick techniques). These three major groupings of techniques are inter-related through the innovative concept of Riai that O-Sensei developed during the Iwama period. There are also a number of supplementary groups of techniques, such as Tanto-dori (knife-taking), and Tenugui waza (techniques with a hand towel) both of which are included within tai-jutsu, Juken-dori (bayonetted rifle disarming), which are absorbed into Aiki Jo Jutsu, and Shuriken Jutsu (blade throwing), which was taught separately to uchi-deshi of Saito Sensei and probably did not play a role in O-Sensei’s concept of Riai.
Finally there is a collection of movements which fall outside the categorisation of the above groups, but which are essential to all, and they are everyday movements such as rolling etc, which for lack of a better term I call Kyotsu Waza, common techniques shared by all.
A. Aiki Tai-jutsu
- Categorisation method 1.
This categorisation method shows techniques listed both in progressive order of technical difficulty, within labelled sections that describe each step of an attack/defense movement.
Techniques are named, when applicable, according to the following classification:
b) Directional Aspect – Attack,
c) Type of attack,
d) Technique being executed,
e) Directional Aspect – Defense,
f) Method of finishing.
Many combinations of these classifications are not possible, due to the nature of the movement of some techniques, however this categorisaion method is a simple and practical way of defining more than 1,000 techniques.
- Posture – 3 possible combinations of postures that attacker and defender can take
- Suwari Waza – both seated
- Hanmi Handachi – nage seated, uke standing
- Tachi Waza – both standing
Suwari Waza is regarded as basic training, because it teaches basic principles of body movement, while helping to physically develop the hips and rest of body. Even though it is more difficult to perform than in standing position, it learned first in order to impart the correct principles of movement early in the course of learning.
- Directional Aspect – Attack – 2 possible directions from which an attack may come.
- Mae Waza – frontal attacks (including from side)
- Ushiro Waza – rear attacks
Although Ushiro Waza techniques are essentially a repeat of all the frontal attacks, it is regarded as more advanced because of the added complexity of dealing with the opponent gripping from the rear. Attacks from the side can be adapted to become frontla attacks by a simple turn of the body. They are all grouped together because they are within the field of view, whereas attacks to the rear are outside the field of view, and so are treated separately to frontal and side attacks.
- Type of Attack – 24 different attacks, upon which the full range of possible attacks are based
- Shomen-uchi – palm strike to centre-line, raising
- Shomen-uchi-komi – edge of the hand strike to centreline from above
- Yokomen-uchi – edge of hand strike to side of body
- Katate-dori – wrist being grabbed by one hand of attacker
- Sode-dori – cuff below / shirt at elbow grabbed by one hand of attacker
- Sode-guchi-dori – inside cuff held
- Kata-dori – one shoulder grabbed by one hand of attacker
- Muna-dori – one hand grab/strike to centre-line, chest level
- Kosa-dori – wrist grabbed in reverse grip by one hand of attacker
- Tsuki – punch to centre line
- Ryote-dori – both wrists grabbed by both hands of attacker
- Ryo-sode-dori – both elbows grabbed by both hands of attacker
- Ryo-kata-dori – both shoulders grabbed by both hands of attacker
- Ryo-muna-dori – two-handed grab to centre-line, chest level
- Morote-dori – both attackers hands grab one arm
- Kata-dori/shomen-uchi (or tsuki) – shoulder grab and strike with other hand
- Muna-dori/shomen-uchi (or tsuki) – chest grab and strike with other hand
- Ushiro-eri-dori – neck lapel gripped by one hand from behind
- Ushiro-ryo-kata-dori – shoulders grabbed by attacker from behind
- Ushiro-ryote-dori – both wrists grabbed from behind
- Ushiro-eri/katate-dori – neck lapel and wrist grabbed from behind
- Ushiro-katate-muna-dori – wrist/collar at front grabbed from behind
- Ni-nin/san-nin gake – 2 or more persons grabbing
- Geri – variations on hand techniques against a variety of kicks
These attacks are listed in order of progressive difficulty, as well as in order of basic principles being imparted through the training with such attacks. The attacks themselves are not absolute, and the list is not exhaustive, however, these 24 attacks define the full range of possible attacking movements that could be encountered by the Aikido-ka, according to the principles of “Takemusu Aiki”.
- Technique being executed – 6 core techniques, with a further 4 regarded as variations of these techniques, and a further 3 regarded as specialised techniques.
- Ikkyo kara Rokkyo – 1st teaching to 6th teaching
- Shiho Nage – four directional throw
- Kote-gaeshi – wrist turning
- Irimi nage – entering throw
- Kokyu Nage – abdominal breath power throw
- Koshi Nage – hip throw
Ikkyo kara Rokkyo refers to all the elbow taking techniques, Ikkyo, Nikyo, Sankyo, Yonkyo, Gokyo and Rokkyo, which are themselves ordered in a progression of technical complexity. Rokkyo was previously labelled as a separate technique: “hiji-katame”, but now appears to be regarded as a progression from Ikkyo. The following techniques have their own classification, but are technically regarded as being variations of the above Movements
- Kaiten Nage – rotary throw (variation of sankyo)
- Tenchi Nage – “heaven and earth throw” (mixture of irimi & kokyu nage)
- Ganseki Otoshi – big rock drop (variation of irimi nage)
- Sumi Otoshi – corner drop (vaitaion of kokyu nage)
- Juji Nage – cross-shaped or cross-twine throw (specialised technique)
- Kubi Nage – neck throw (specialised technique)
- Aiki Nage – throwing with energy (specialised technique)
- Directional Aspect – Defense – 2 possible directions the defender can move against the attackers force
- Omote – entering across the front
- Ura – turning to the rear
This directional aspect is the movement of the defender against the attacker, as opposd to the above, which is a movement of the attacker against the defender. Omote and Ura are treated as being equally as important, rather like two sides of the coin.
- Method of Finishing the techniques – 4 methods of dealing with the attacker.
- Nuke – escaping
- Atemi – striking
- Nage – throwing
- Katame, or Osae – pinning, or controling
These finishes are listed in order of progressive difficulty, however it is Nage and Katame that is usually practiced, because if one in proficient in these, Nuke and Atemi are readily apparent. To make matters clearer, a technique name can be generated by following the path of movement through the above categories, from the beginning of the movement to the end, as seen in the chart below.
For example, to classify a technique where you are attacked from the front by a standing attacker while you are seated, with a grip to your wrist, whereby you perform the 4 directional throw to their rear, finishing with a pin, the technique would be called “Mae hanmi handachi katate-dori shiho-nage, katame”. If the technique was practiced as a solid exercise (see below), then you would add “kihon” at the end.
- Posture – 3 possible combinations of postures that attacker and defender can take
- Categorisation Method 2.
This categorisation method defines the above techniques in a particular training method according to the type of martial principles being taught. Certain of the above techniques can be regarded as teaching basic principles, while others only appear in special circumstances, and all of the above techniques can be defined in terms of one of these training methods.
- Kihon Waza – basic techniques
- Henka Waza – variation of basic techniques
- Oyo Waza – applied techniques
- Sutemi Waza – sacrifice techniques
- Kaeshi Waza – reversal, or counter techniques
- Iko Waza – techniques to deal with counter techniques
- Jiyu Waza – free techniques
These methods are listed in order of progressive difficulty and complexity, which is consistent with an increasing depth of martial principle.
- Categorisation Method 3.
This categorisation method defines the level of intensity in physical movement and amount of intention in the mind of both the attacker and the defender when performing the movements.
- Ko Tai – “hard body” or solid,
- Ju Tai – “soft body” or flexible,
- Ryu Tai – “flowing body”
- Ki Tai – “energy body”
This list shows the training method in order of progressive difficulty, which is consistent with an increasing development in performance. Ko Tai and Ju tai have come to be known as “Kihon” and “Ki-no-nagare” respectively, while Ryu Tai and Ki Tai have become grouped together to form what is known as “Ki-musubi”. A distinction should be made between Ryu Tai and Ki Tai however, as Ki Tai is performed with the same physical movement as Ryu Tai, but with the most intense level of intention that borders on fully-intended attack.
B. Aiki Ken Jutsu.
- Ken Suburi – 7 techniques – basic cuts and steps from ken kamae, starting from right hanmi
- Suburi Awase – 7 techniques, as above, but in conjunction with a partner
- Happo giri – 5 techniques – 8 directional cut from ken kamae
- Ken awase – 7 techniques – sword blending patterns with a partner, each with several variations
- Ki-musubi-no-tachi 1 technique – a 3 step pattern to practice awase, and introduce kumi-tachi)
- Kumi-tachi – 25 techniques, with partner, 5 kihon, each with 2 set sword and 2 set body variations, further variations
- Tachi-dori – 10 Techniques – sword disarming
- Ken/Tai Jutsu No Riai – 10? techniques, with 2 partners, showing relationship between sword and body movement
- Tanren Uchi – supplemental training, heavy striking
- Suburito Keiko -supplemental training with a heavy sword
C. Aiki Jo Jutsu
- Jo Suburi – 20 techniques, basic strikes and blocks
- Roku no jo – 3 techniques, a 6 step combination of suburi that condenses to 4 step, with variations
- Tenkan Waza – 6 techniques, 180 and 360 deg. turning movements based on suburi
- Sanjuichi-no-Jo – 31 step kata
- Jusan-no-Jo – 13 step kata
- Jo Awase – 8 techniques, stick blending patterns with a partner
- Kumi-Jo – 10 techniques, applied techniques with a partner
- Sanjuichi-no-Kumi-Jo – partner practice to the 31 step kata (kata bunkai)
- Jusan-no-jo Awase – partner practice to the 13 step kata (kata bunkai)
- Jo Dori – 11 techniques, stick disarming
- Jo/Tai Jutsu No Riai, or Jo Nage – 10 techniques, throwing attacker who grabs stick
- Ken-Jo-no Riai (or Ken-Tai Jo) – 10? techniques, stick defence against sword
D. Tanto Dori
a) Tanto Dori – 10 techniques, disarming knife, based upon Tai-jutsu
E. Tenugui Waza
These techniques utilise the traditional Japanese cotton hand-towel (tenugui), and involve trapping the attackers arm and throwing. They are based upon taijutsu movements and are performed rarely, usually in a Demonstration setting. It is possible they derived from manriki-gusari (double weighted chain weapon) arts of the 19th Century and earlier.
F. Juken Dori
These are pre-War bayonetted rifle techniques that the founder trained in and taught while in the army, and have become absorbed into the Jo-Jutsu curriculum, however they still appear occasionally in Demonstration settings.
G. Shuriken Jutsu
While O-Sensei is not known to have studied, or even mentioned Shuriken Jutsu, the founder’s teacher Sokaku Takeda and Morihiro Saito Sensei both were masters of this art, Negishi Ryu Shuriken Jutsu. Saito Sensei taught Shuriken to uchi-deshi after they had signed a “keppan” or oath of sincerity.
F. Kyotsu Waza
These are not really techniques as such, but movements and understandings that students need to learn to enable safe participation in traditional Japanese dojo life. Kyotsu means “shared by all” and simply refers to the common sense things that one should know when ina dojo.
a) Shikko – moving around while kneeling
b) Ukemi – falls, rolls, and high falls (tobu-ukemi)
c) Osoji – cleaning
d) Rei – Etiquette
Kuden is the oral teachings and written material produced by O-Sensei over his almost 70 year martial career. It consists of calligraphy, poems, oral teachings, poems and writings, all of which contain further information and detail about the art the the founder taught. It is not all collected and kept in a single place, rather, it is spread out over private collections, reproductions in publications, on display in dojo around the world, and held in the memories of the remaining students of O-Sensei and their deshi.