99% of Aikido Practitioners make this crucial mistake… Do You? by Stanley Pranin

99% of Aikido Practitioners make this crucial mistake… Do You?

If you’ve ever practiced Aikido, it is likely you often find yourself struggling to make your techniques work. But sometimes you simply can’t figure out why you fail. Did you mess up your footwork? Is your training partner so strong you can’t gain control? There are a hundred possibilities… and you’re totally lost!

Without a doubt, the biggest error preventing you from executing effective techniques is due to one single mistake! It is common across all aikido styles too, and most practitioners are blissfully unaware of it!

You fail to immediately unbalance your partner!

It’s as simple as that! You’re so focused on the details of the technique that you fail to unbalance your partner. A strong opponent will easily stop your technique if his posture remains strong. But there’s good news! Fortunately, this corollary is also true…

If you succeed in taking your partner’s balance, you can throw him easily!

Using the images and commentary below, we’ll discuss common technical problems and suggest ways to correct errors to speed up your progress. Follow these suggestions and soon your techniques will start working consistently!


This photo illustrates a setup from an iriminage throw that is commonly seen in aikido dojos. At first glance, it appears that uke is under control and it will be possible to cleanly execute the technique. However, a closer inspection will reveal potential weaknesses:

  • Nage will need to employ considerable force to pin uke’s head against his body with one hand.
  • Even though uke is off balance, he is leaning against nage and he can use nage’s body as a point of support and offer resistence.
  • Observe the position of uke’s right arm: uke can potentially lean against nage’s right leg to push him over.
  • Uke’s left hand is free and can strike nage’s groin, torso or head.
  • Yet another possibility as seen in the second photo inset, uke can use his knee to attack nage.

Compare this with the position of perfect control in the setup for iriminage demonstrated by Morihei Ueshiba in his 1938 technical manual “Budo”.

  • Morihei is positioned parallel to uke in his blind spot.
  • Uke’s hips are twisted to the right and he has lost his balance backwards.
  • Uke’s body is not in contact with nage as is the case in the above photo.
  • Being off balance and not being in contact with nage’s body, uke is unable to execute a counterattack.

This is an example of a common error made when executing iriminage from a shomenuchi strike. Uke remains in a stable posture leaning against nage’s body. Uke may shift his weight onto nage causing the latter to lose his balance. Another possibility is that uke may be able to strike nage’s head or body with his free hand.


In this photo, nage is grabbed in katatedori and is attempting a shihonage. Here again, nage fails to break uke’s balance and will have great difficulty in executing the technique. Uke is in a position to counterattack and strike or kick nage as shown in the inset photos.


Uke has executed a katadori shoulder grab. Nage steps backward and, still facing uke, fails to unbalance him. One again uke is in a position to punch or kick nage as he has retained his balance. These types of errors and commonplace, but should be avoided if you wish to execute effective techniques.


In this photo, nage has stepped to the side when grabbed in katatedori. In so doing, uke is slightly off balance. However, uke has turned toward nage and is once again in a position to strike or kick nage. To prevent this, nage could execute an atemi to unbalance uke backward thus avoiding a counterattack.


Here nage steps backward to receive a katadori grab. Although uke is leaning slightly forward, he may still execute a punch, or a reversal by countering nage using iriminage as shown in the second inset photo. Again, an atemi to uke’s face would have been more effective in taking uke’s balance and precluding the possibility of a counterattack.


In this photo, nage has met uke’s shomenuchi attack with a smooth blend and moved to uke’s blind spot. Nage is in a triangular posture relative to uke and has taken the latter’s balance backward. Moreover, nage is in a position to down uke backward or perform an atemi to throw uke. This approach to shomenuchi iriminage can be seen in Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 technical manual “Budo”.


Uke grabs nage in katatedori and nage steps well to uke’s side while simultaneously executing an atemi to the face. Uke has completely lost his balance as can be seen by the fact that his posture is unstable. As uke is overextended, nage can easily execute ikkyo through yonkyo and various other aikido techniques from this position.


Uke grabs nage’s shoulder (katadori) as nage steps circularly to uke’s side while extending his left arm outward and down. Uke’s balance is totally compromised and he can easily be thrown backward using kokyunage as shown.


Uke has attempted a katadori grab and nage has turned inward, simultaneously delivering an atemi. This has produced a flinch reflex in uke who is unbalanced backward. This is an example of how the disadvantage of facing uke can be overcome through the use of such tools as atemi and kiai, the combative shout. It should be noted that uke’s posture is similar to the other examples where nage is in uke’s blind spot thus causing him to lose balance backwards.

We welcome your comments below!

Thanks to Alfonso Alarcón and Joseph Campiere for their assistance in the demonstrations and to Ken Rowland of Aikido San Miguel for his gracious cooperation.

Categories: Contributed,Featured,Stanley Pranin,Technical

8s Comments

  1. As a 73 year-old student of Aikido, I was first introduced to this martial art by a brown belt who told me that Aikido can be learned at ‘any age’. I am still very fit for my age but not as flexible as a younger person. Consequently I find ukemis difficult. However, I was told that I could learn without ukemis and in fact a 7th dan, who graded me, said that he never used them as his dojo was too small. He also said that he would not allow a man of my age to receive a full throw. However, my 5th dan sensai disagreed and said that ukemis were essential and insisted on them being learned. He wanted to take away my yellow belt but I have now left that dojo and attend a Budokan school, where full throws are never executed. Therefore, this all raises the question: which school of thought is correct and whether it is right to advertise Aikido as something that can be learned at any age?

  2. There are a lot more mistakes than correct moves or this stuff would be easy. Aiki timing is hard, but also, well, the art is named aiki, isn’t it? If you miss the timing, uke will adapt to the technique almost automatically in order to retain balance. There’s a big credibility problem training new ukes not to.

  3. Looking at the photos I see many technical issues beyond timing. Consider just one – the hand on the outside and alongside uke’s head. Notice that Saito Sensei and O Sensei in the picture always grasp the collar. If your hand is on the collar your forearm can align with uke’s spine. In that position you have leverage to unbalance uke by a move of your hips similar to that used in hasso gaeshi of jo. That won’t be available otherwise. That’s not to elaborate on the kaeshi waza which become available with other hand positions.

  4. Actually, you will sometimes see both O-Sensei and Saito Sensei grabbing the side of the head. I think it has to do with the intensity of uke’s attacking energy. I personally prefer grabbing uke’s collar in most cases.

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