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Some Thoughts on the Kuzushiwaza (part 1)

by on March 13, 2013

A while ago someone sent me an email asking for advice on the kuzushiwaza. This is no small question, and certainly not one I’m prepared to give a final answer on. Frankly, I’d be suspicious of anyone’s “final answer” on the topic. However, I will take the opportunity to talk about a few things that I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m on the road right now, and don’t have the time or bandwidth to make a video. I was trying to come up with something to post this week, and this question is the perfect prompt.

Here are the relevant bits from the original conversation:

We’re finding that it’s difficult to initiate breaking uke’s balance without using arm muscle. I was wondering if perhaps you have any suggestions for how to train effectively for these techniques. Is there a way to deconstruct these into smaller bits that we can gradually build on and eventually put the pieces together to perform the actual techniques?

I’m in a rush to pack for some traveling at the moment. What I think I’ll do, if you don’t mind, is address your question as a post on the blog. It’s a great prompt and since I’ll be on the road I needed something that I could post without eating up the time and bandwidth of video.

To answer your question briefly though, focus on moving around the jiku (connection point) without actually moving the jiku until the end. In most, if not all of the techniques, this is done in more than one rotational axis. Most of uke is on the distal (farther away from you) side of the jiku, but some of uke (his hand) is on the proximal side of the jiku. Try focusing on the proximal bits. Uke’s fingers are attached to his body, so if you can move the fingers his body will move.

what do you mean by the “proximal side” and “proximal bits”? Please define/explain. Thanks.

Proximal and distal are medical terms relating to the distance from a patients heart. If someone broke a bone you might worry about parts distal to the injury (like fingers) loosing feeling or circulation.

I’m borrowing the term to refer to the distance from your own center.

The jiku is the center of uke’s grasp (in this case). His fingers are closer to your center than the jiku. (Proximal). The rest of his body is farther away (distal).

Try to mechanically isolate the proximal parts (because they are the weaker link in this case) and manipulate them.

Note: I had begun to write up this post, but then when I re-read the messages above, I realized that the original question was a little bit different than the one I was actually working on, so decided to go back and briefly address it more specifically.

One standard way to break down the kuzushiwaza is to perform them in seize. Shishida sensei did this with us when he first came to Vassar and it really helped me become comfortable with them. The footwork may seem like only a small element of the techniques, one variable out of many, but moving to seiza makes them much, much more accessible.

My best advice is to find someone who already has a decent understanding of the techniques and take turns performing them back and forth in seiza.

I’m sure there may be a productive way to break down the techniques much further, but I haven’t seen any specific methods. Like with almost all Tomiki techniques, you may find it helpful analyze how elements from the basic drills, such as the unsoku, the tegatena dosa, and tegatena awase come into play. As beginners, these drills allow us to develop basic skills. But the powerful thing about the drills is that they provide a framework for practicing much more subtle and advanced skills. It can be easy to pass these drills off as simple, dull, and boring – easy beginner stuff – and I did so for many years. However, if you make the effort to practice them mindfully they can remain almost as valuable for the advanced practitioner as they are for the newest beginner.

Beyond seiza and the carryover from drills, I’m not aware of any other way that people are breaking down the kuzushiwaza. It certainly should be possible, and it would be a fun, interesting project, but I’m not aware of anything that’s already being done. If you have a method people might like, please share it in the comments!

For now I’ll resume my analysis of the first 6 techniques.


What are some of the characteristics common to the kuzushiwaza? (At least the first 6 – I don’t have my head totally around the 7th, but because it is a two handed grab and uke is behind you I will treat it separately for now.

  • Te no ura
  • Use the lower body to maintain ma-ai
  • Establish connection
  • Isolate the portion of use’s grip proximal to the jiku
  • Maintain connection
  • Rotate around the jiku in multiple planes maintaining structure and advantage.
  • Cross uke’s “orbital path”
  • Finish with a “strong” move (again with the lower body) – forwards or backwards on your line (or perhaps straight down).

Starting from the beginning: the “te no ura” motion is where you present your hand to uke one way and then flip it the other way at the last second before uke grabs. This gives you the opportunity for extra rotation later on.

Some people do a sort of double rotation – they present their arms twisted almost to the maximum one way, twist it all the way the other way just before uke grabs, and then use that twist potential to return to the amount of twist that they originally presented their arms with. This could be a good habit to get into since it really trains you to milk as much twist out of a technique as possible. I don’t usually use quite this much twisting in my setup

Use the lower body to maintain ma-ai: I remember Sato sensei saying that the kuzushiwaza (and every technique) incorporates the principal of tegatena awase (the dancing drill) every movement that uke makes is matched by tori, which maintains ma-au. In my mind this is the same idea that Henry Kono talks about – using the hand as an antenna which tells the feet how to move in order to stay AT THE CENTER. This is the essence of Tomiki’s tegatena awase drill, though unfortunately it is often practiced in a rote, mindless way. An interesting extension of this idea is the “Kono dip” which can be very useful for the jodan kuzushiwaza (and I’ll bet you can find corollaries in other techniques). In Kono sensei’s techniques tori moves the feet until the “center” has been re-established between the hands. (My own description) The way I’ve described this to people in our study group is as follows: when uke grabs tori (with malicious intent) the “center” moves some distance INTO tori. If uke manages to move the “center” all the way into tori’s center then uke will be able to control tori. By using his lower body (i.e. moving his feet) tori can shift the “center” along the path of connection back out. Once the “center” reaches the junction of use’s grasping hand tori is free to move around it. It has become the jiku, and tori has shifted from yin to yang.

When following this process it is important not to begin any rotation until the junction has become the jiku. When only moving the feet this process can take some time. I often find myself trying to move one step too early. That seems to be a common problem. It’s important not to -WANT- to move too soon just -ALLOW- the technique to develop at its own pace. However, you can help the technique to develop more quickly by employing a dip. The dip occurs just before yin and yang switch. The sooner you (properly) employ a dip, the sooner the transition from yin to yang will happen. In fact, the dip can be employed just before uke grabs – thus though uke had intended to be yang he is already yin at the moment he grabs. This is the case with the two jodan kuzushiwaza (and no doubt with the other kuzushiwaza, though I haven’t worked it out in the same detail yet). The dip that you see a good tomiki partitioner using is exactly the same as Henry’s dip.

End part 1.

 (I’m on vacation right now, and I’m having trouble getting this post finished, so I’ll try releasing it in sections. Next up: Establish connection and isolate the portion of use’s grip proximal to the jiku.)

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  1. This is pretty helpful and I’m still playing around with it.
    I’m glad you mentioned “make the effort to practice [unsoku/tegatana dosa] mindfully” because I too notice not everyone does this. But perhaps partly this is due to the fact that it hasn’t been communicated as well the purpose and value of practicing these fundamentals, and how they play into learning all our aikido techniques.

  2. Just found this great post by Paul Bonett on practicing the unsoku dosa mindfully over at Study Group Tomiki aikido:

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