Download the current rules for tanto randori:
Randori Rules

Tomiki Sensei’s major contribution to Aikido practice and thought was a curriculum modeled upon that of Judo. Tomiki Sensei died an 8th Dan in Judo, as well as an 8th Dan in Aikikai Aikido. He had been in his lifetime a student of both Ueshiba Sensei, the founder of Aikido, as well as of Kano Sensei, the founder of Judo. So, it was natural that he should attempt to combine the grace and harmony of Aikido with the training methodology of Judo, a methodology that has for decades allowed its students to rout those of Japan’s numerous Ju-jitsu schools.

Tomiki Sensei’s first borrowing from Judo was the idea of a compact, logically developed curriculum. Compared to traditional Aikido styles, relatively few techniques are practiced in Tomiki Aikido. Whereas other styles attempt to guide students to the true principle of a given basic technique by showing them dozens upon dozens of variations, Tomiki Sensei thought it better to repeat and practice a few techniques many times, looking to work each day upon improving speed, timing, and kuzushi. Thus, if you visit our Syllabus Page you will see that the course of study even up to 5th Degree Black Belt is relatively slim.

Tomiki Sensei’s second major borrowing from Judo, and one which has unfortunately been misunderstood, was randori and shiai. Randori is sparring practice against someone who is resisting. The levels of resistance can go from the negligible (as in kakari-geiko), to the substantial (as in hikitate-geiko), to the total (as in shiai). The purpose of randori and shiai is not to defeat anyone. It is to improve one’s Aikido, and that of the person with whom one is playing.

Sadly, as randori and shiai matches have all the trimmings of, say, Judo tournaments, many Aikidoka from traditional styles mistakenly assume upon seeing such a match that what is going on violates the fundamental principles of Aikido–it’s very name, even. For Aikido means “The Way of Harmonizing Energies,” and Ueshiba Sensei gave it this name because he wished people to get along, to be harmonious and good. Yet, one is often faced with people who are petulant and defiant, people who are, in Buddhist terminology, fixated. One should in every way seek to guide them peaceably along the Way. And, in most cases, this can be done by simple acts of sympathy and by small remonstrations. However, one may encounter a person who is completely implacable–and, if the situation is a dire one, a person who is hell bent on harming you.

Tomiki Sensei thought that the best way to prepare for such a situation was to replicate it. However, as we are Aikidoka and not Navy SEAL’s, hurting the attacker just because it would be an easy way to defend ourselves is not a morally tenable path. We aim to subdue the attacker–hopefully without causing him any lasting harm–and give him the time he needs to cool off and assess the error of his ways. Randori and shiai attempt to give the player experience in just such a process of subduing without harming. In a tournament, one is pitted against a smart, trained player who is not giving you an inch–who, in fact is doing his or her best to plunge a styrofoam “knife” into your chest. It is full speed, and as close as one can safely get to combat. And, what gives it its ultimate value is that it forces one to make one’s Aikido work: One has to apply techniques that subdue, but that do not injure the other player. One has to deal Justly, Kindly, Harmoniously, and in the True Spirit of Aikido–and do it under the harshest of circumstances. It is for that reason that shiai is valuable, for it is as much a test of spirit as of skill.

What is more, it constantly forces the player to deal with a poor mind set. For the temptation is always there in a tournament–as it is in life–to be fixated upon winning, upon the ego, upon petty and worthless thoughts. As one plays more and more Randori and Shiai, however, one learns to reject these illusions, to become one with the moment, and to enjoy and experience true Aikido.

For having given us such a good mechanism for facing down the ego and learning–indeed living–the Spirit of Aikido, Tomiki Sensei deserves the highest praise.