Professor Tomiki’s Radical Notion

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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”)