“A Look Inside Morihei’s Revolutionary
Training Manual,” by Stanley Pranin
When I discovered Morihei’s little 1938 training manual during an interview in 1981, little did I realize how important a find it was. I immediately showed it to my teacher Morihiro Saito who had no idea that such a document existed. Saito Sensei was delighted at the discovery because “Budo” contained irrefutable evidence that his way of teaching in Iwama was faithful to the Founder’s curriculum as he had learned it after the war directly from Morihei.
Here, I would like to offer a few comments about the manual titled simply “Budo,” and point out some aspects of its technical significance.
One of the immediate obvious characteristics of “Budo” is the frequent appearance of “atemi” or combative strikes used by Morihei during the setup and execution of techniques. In the postwar era, the use of atemi became less frequent and was downright discouraged within the Aikikai system as being excessively violent and counter to the harmonious nature of aikido. In retrospect, it seems ironic because, not only was Morihei using atemi heavily in the prewar period, but he can be seen applying atemi strikes right up to the end of his life in his surviving films.
Atemi are desirable and often necessary for the successful setup of aikido techniques, especially in “go no sen” situations, where uke has seized the attacking initiative. Nage must overcome this disadvantage by disturbing uke’s concentration and breaking his physical structure so that he can apply a technique effectively. The photo sequence above shows examples of Morihei’s use of atemi from “Budo.”
“Shihonage: Aikido’s four-corner throw that most get wrong!”
When I first began studying aikido under Morihiro Saito, 9th dan, one of the things I most clearly remember was Saito Sensei’s insistence on a very important detail of shihonage. I had always felt uncomfortable with this technique, especially the part where one steps in front of uke to raise the hand above his head and pivot. Often, uke would pull his arm back to his body to “jam” my shihonage. I did the same thing to stop nage sometimes when I felt my balance had not been taken. I never liked the technique and found it ineffective.
What Saito Sensei did that was so different was to place his outside hand below his inside hand and immobilize uke’s thumb before passing in front. The immobilzation of uke’s thumb made it possible to easily unbalance him, and also served to set up an arm bar. Most mainstream schools place the outside hand on top with the inside hand close to their body, an approach that can easily be resisted. Look carefully here, particularly at the first two photos, and you can see the placement of Morihei’s hands as he executes shihonage. How does this compare with the way you have been taught to grab uke’s hand?
Another important thing to note is how Morihei has pivoted 180 degree leaving uke — Kisshomaru Ueshiba in this case! — totally off balance for the throw. Notice, too, how Morihei brings uke’s arm close to uke’s shoulder for the throw. Morihei does not extend uke’s arm away from his shoulder as is commonly seen today. This is dangerous and can dislocate uke’s shoulder, or open nage up to a counter-technique if uke still has his balance.
“Iriminage: Aikido’s crown jewel!”
Iriminage is a technique that Morihei began adopting in the late 1930s. It is a highly sophisticated blending technique that requires little physical strength, but that can produce very powerful throws. In the photos above, first notice how Morihei lines us his feet to match uke in aihanmi. His hips are turned to the outward. In the next photo, you can see clearly Morihei’s body positioning and grab of uke’s collar. In the final stage, Morihei pivots his hips in preparation for stepping thow. Note that uke is completely unbalanced.
In mainstream aikido, what often passes for iriminage is a sort of hybrid technique that is perhaps closer to a kokyunage. Often practitioners will force down uke’s head to the mat and then raise him up again for the throw. To my mind, this seems like an unnecessary and uneconomical way to execute iriminage, but its use is very widespread. In any event, look at how Morihei performs this technique. The Founder continued to teach it this way in Iwama after the war, and this is how I learned it from Saito Sensei.
This is just a cursory glance at the revealing contents of “Budo,” one of aikido’s real technical treasures. If you look at the photos and explanations carefully you will discover many hints that will improve your execution of aikido techniques.
Among Morihiro Saito Sensei’s technical books mentioned below, the final volume “Takemusu Aikido Special Edition,” is devoted entirely to an analysis of “Budo.” Serious students will not fail to explore this subject.
The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.