Professor Tomiki’s Radical Notion


Over the past month or so, I have been reflecting upon Tomiki Sensei’s work On Jujutsu and Modernization. This was one of Tomiki’s last works, completed in 1975 after he was already retired from full-time teaching. This document is included in its entirety in this issue of Tomiki News. First of all, this is an important text for any student of Tomiki’s aikido; but second, it provides so much of the context of this essay that it must be at hand when reading the essay. All uncited quotations come from Robert Dziubla’s translation of On Jujutsu and Modernization.

The question that has always nagged at the back of my mind has been why Tomiki Sensei focused so closely on such a small set of techniques. While we know he was seeking out techniques that best demonstrated the three principles (shizentai no ri, ju no ri, and kuzushi no ri), it is easy to see from archived footage that Tomiki Sensei’s aikido was much broader than the narrow set of randori no kata which we have received in the curriculum. For example, the randori no kata does not include kote mawashi (nikyo), which is considered one of the basic techniques in the Aikikai curriculum. It is, however, present throughout the Koryu Goshin no Kata. Why did Tomiki Sensei choose not to include such an important technique? The answer lies within Tomiki’s reasoning in On Jujutsu and Modernization.

Tomiki’s Purpose in Studying Aikido

When Jigoro Kano sent one of his best students, Kenji Tomiki, to study aikijujutsu under Morihei Ueshiba, it was with the express intent of incorporating the most dangerous techniques of bujutsu into a comprehensive, modern budo system. In forming Kodokan Judo, Kano had successfully adapted nage waza (throws) and katame waza (locks). Previously, these techniques were used to finish an opponent after one had closed distance and removed weapons from the equation. This close distance was the foundation of what Tomiki would later dub kumi judo. (Shishida, “History of Competition in Aikido”)

The challenge he gave to Tomiki was the adaptation of the techniques of the next distance, what Tomiki later called hanare judo (“separation judo”). At this distance, bujutsu employed atemi waza and kansetsu waza to close distance. According to Tomiki, these had not been included in the original judo system because they were viewed as too dangerous. Tomiki, like most judoka, held that “the nage waza and katame waza belong to [judo] randori training, while the atemi waza and kansetsu waza for the most part belong to kata training.”

Atemi and kansetsu were reserved for kata training because their primary functions were destructive. To put it bluntly, they were meant to maim and break break bones, allowing a warrior into the kumi. Once there, he could employ nage and katame for toppling (仆 taosu) and control or pinning (押 osaeru). There was no kuzushi in the application of atemi and kansetsu, as they were practiced and they required great physical strength. Through his studies with Ueshiba, Tomiki became they could be adapted and performed utilizing his three-fold understanding of the principles of judo. (Shishida, “Judo’s Techniques Performed from a Distance”, 168)

Here is where Ueshiba’s use of aiki becomes important. Most bujutsu was concerned with physical power and control. Takeda and Ueshiba emphasized instead the idea of fluid movement and joining with the attacker’s energy. This was easily synchronized with the shizentai and ju of judo. Filtered through this understanding, atemi and kansetsu did not have to be violent or destructive. They were violent only because they were understood and performed in a violent way. Ueshiba’s aiki approached them differently and translated from their violent antecedents to something very elegant. It was this more elegant form of atemi and kansetsu which Ueshiba had inherited from Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu; and Tomiki took the radical step of adapting the techniques for randori with this in mind.

An additional piece of Tomiki’s radical thinking was found in the lineage of judo itself. As a judoka, Tomiki had been exposed to the Koshiki no Kata, one of judo’s higher kata which was drawn from Kito Ryu Jujutsu. The kata features a great deal of kuzushi, and is performed in kumi distance, originally in armor. Within the Koshiki no Kata, there are a number of atemi. For example, the second  and fourth forms, yume no uchi and mizu guruma, include a prototypical form of ai gamae ate to create kuzushi before a finishing nage. Other forms, like the fifth form, mizu nagare, employ kansetsu. Other forms, such as hiki otoshi (the sixth form), were adapted directly into Tomiki’s system.

Employed at the hanare distance, these techniques demonstrated non-destructive potential; and therefore, it was not out of the realm of possibility that they could be adapted for randori. This equation between Koshiki no Kata and the atemi and kansetsu in Tomiki’s system is not novel. Two of his living students, Tetsuro Nariyama and Tsunako Miyake, have noted that he stated this when teaching. (Nariyama, Aikido Randori, 68; Lowry, “Koshiki no Kata 1”)

Chart adapted from Aikido: Tradition and the Competitive Edge by Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsuro Nariyama

Examples of Possible Adaptations

Tomiki Sensei never articulated a list of the adaptations he made, so they can only be hypothesized by observation. Inherent in this method is the potential for overstatement. If one compares forms from the randori no kata with the parallel forms in other aikido curricula or even with the Koryu Goshin no Kata, the adaptations fairly pop out. The three examples provided here are not offered as exhaustive or absolute, but rather are based on observation.

One example, ai gamae ate, may suffice to illustrate this. Ai gamae ate is essentially the same as irimi nage but it is adapted to prevent neck injuries. Thus, instead of using the head as the primary contact point, the shoulders or chest are generally used. The result is substantially the same but can be performed at realtime speed against an aggressive attack, as in randori.

Another adaptation Tomiki made is the exclusion of dogi mochi from his randori no kata. These appear prominently in the Koryu Goshin no Kata, especially in the Tachi Waza but are absent from the randori no kata and not permitted in randori. This might seem like a minor adaptation, but it served two purposes. First, like the use of the tanto, it helps distinguish Tomiki Aikido from judo by

keeping practitioners at hanare distance and out of kumi during randori. Second, it requires that technique be performed with joining aiki energy. Grabbing the dogi provides a strong lever for twisting and distorting joints. Without the grab, the practitioner must rely on movement, posture and softness.

A third adaptation was the requirement of attack in tanto randori. By forcing tanto to attack toshu with honest intent, Tomiki added tremendous energy into the system which could then be employed by toshu. This encourages softness in toshu’s response and provides an overwhelming majority of the energy required for the performance of atemi and kansetsu.


Through these kinds of adaptations, Tomiki Sensei was able to adapt some, but not all, of the atemi and kansetsu he learned from Ueshiba. Tomiki never believed he had completed adapted the atemi and kansetsu. He had never developed a method by which his aikido and judo randori could be combined into a single, comprehensive kyogi style. Based on the headway he had made, however, he was convinced that it could be done. On Jujutstu and Modernization was his summary of the results of that adaptation. He called later generations of aikidoka to continue and complete the work he had begun.

This perfection, however, further awaits the cooperation of many people over many long years before it develops into a form of competition which may unblushingly stand beside competition kendo, with its 250 year history, and competition jujutsu, with its 100 year history.

It is difficult for those of us who already practice Tomiki Aikido to look back and really embrace how radical Tomiki’s approach was. The truth is that he was tasked with and rose to an enormous challenge. He took techniques which were considered violent and dangerous by virtually all of his contemporaries, employed a relatively new methodology in his use of the judo principles, and produced something extraordinary. His call to us as his followers is to continue this process of discovery, experimentation and unification is part of our responsibility in furthering his work.

Sources Consulted

Lowry, Nick. “Koshiki no Kata 1”, accessed August 18, 2017.

Nariyama, Testsuro. Aikido Randori. San Diego, CA: Shodokan Press, 2010.

Shishida, Fumiaki. “History of Competition in Aikido.”

___. “Judo’s Techniques Performed from a Distance: The Origin of Jigoro Kano’s Concept and Its Actualization by Kenji Tomiki.” Budo: Science of Martial Arts vol 6, no 4 (2010): 165-171.