“If you want to know how aikido techniques changed
after the war, here is a good place to start!”
Over the years I have published a number of articles that deal with the Shomenuchi Ikkyo technique of the prewar era. I have mentioned an earlier approach to doing techniques from the shomenuchi (overhand strike attack). I particularly like to stress the importance of nage (the person applying the technique) initiating the encounter in order to preempt a high-speed attack by uke and avoid a collision, something decidedly against the principles of aikido, the “art of harmony”.
Please have a look at these two photos that depict Koichi Tohei, 10th dan. These photos are the start of the Shomenuchi ikkyo technique described in Tohei Sensei’s technical volume “This is Aikido” published in 1968.
Let us make some observations about these two photos. First, in photo #1, Tohei Sensei (nage) is standing in hanmi awaiting the shomen attack. His uke — Seishiro Endo — has launched a shomenuchi attack. Allowing for the fact that the photos may be artificial in that they are posed, we must still deal with the reality that nage has only a minute time frame to respond to uke’s attack that is already in progress.
Next, look at photo #2. What is described as a blend could equally be construed as a collision between nage and uke as their arms traveling in direct opposition make contact. In fairness, let us quote part of the description of the beginning of this technique from the book which describes the thinking behind this approach:
Although you throw your partner with an ikkyo much as you do in the kata-tori ikkyo…., since, in this technique, his attempted strike moves downward, it is easy for you to collide with his strength and difficult for you to force him down backward. The irimi here, therefore, consists of turning your partner’s strength against him…
Maintain a mighty outpouring of ki from your hands and swing your arms up…
Morihei Ueshiba advocated a totally different approach. The Founder stated that nage should be proactive and initiate the movement thus effectively neutralizing uke’s shomenuchi attack altogether and eliminating the risk of collision alluded to above.
Although Koichi Tohei began his training at Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo in 1940 when the war between Japan and China was already in progress, he is recognized as one of the foremost figures of postwar aikido. His curriculum was broad, well-organized and presented in a number of early aikido technical books. Within the Aikikai system, the other approach to aikido techniques which bore many similarities with Tohei’s aikido was the less rigorous and losely developed system of the Founder’s son Kisshomaru Ueshiba. This is one of the reasons Tohei Sensei was accorded the position of Shihan Bucho — chief instructor — of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. He was recognized by most as the superior technician at the Aikikai.
What was taught at the Aikikai from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s ending with Tohei Sensei’s departure from the Hombu Dojo in 1974, was something of a composite of the curricula of Tohei and Kisshomaru that coexisted. Many uchideshi and students practicing at the dojo during these years had extensive exposure to both systems, some favoring one over the other.
By comparing the approaches to dealing with shomenuchi attacks described in this article and the preceding one, you will gain a glimpse of the rather dramatic differences that existed between the two methods of practice. The prewar art was more martial, proactive and assertive while the postwar approaches of Tohei and Kisshomaru placed little emphasis on the martiality of technique and focused more on the art’s philosophy and its use as a vehicle of personal and health development. This had a great deal to do with the tenor of the times, Japan then being a defeated nation occupied by foreign troops.
I will contine spending time systematically going through some of these differences in technical and mental approaches in an effort to delineate more clearly how aikido evolved from the prewar period through modern times. I submit that such studies can have profound implications in understanding the art’s orgins and also may suggest many modifications and improvements that can be made to current practice methods.