Author: Bret Gordon
Ok, so it's technically called Shodokan Aikido (also referred to as Tomiki Aikido) but of all the Aikido branches, the line founded by Tomiki Kenji is probably the most devoid of any aiki. By aiki, I am specifically referring to the biomechanical processes by which internal power is generated. I am not talking about simply manipulating the opponent's energy and blending with it. You see, while Tomiki Kenji did study under Ueshiba Morihei and attain the rank of 8th Dan, his background in Judo certainly took precedence. Directly contradicting O'Sensei's wishes that "there is no competition in Aikido," Tomiki instituted a type of tanto randori (knife sparring) that is all too reminiscent of a Judo shiai. In fact, the Aikikai urged him to pick a different name for his art because it contradicted everything Aikido taught. So where did it all go wrong, and why do I call it Tomiki Jujutsu?
As we all know, Kano Jigoro formulated his system of Kodokan Judo by removing so-called "dangerous" techniques from practice. Instead, we are left with 40 original throws (now expanded to 67) that use leverage and body mechanics to effortlessly throw an attacker. The problem is that he removed some of the key techniques of jujutsu: small joint manipulation. There is no standing technique in the Kodokan curriculum that attacks any joint. Now, there's nothing wrong with that. It's what Kano wanted, and that is his right as the founder. However, it must be noted that when Kano visited O'Sensei's dojo, he is quoted as saying "This is my ideal Budo."
All Tomiki did was reintroduce the joint manipulation of Aikido to the body movement and throwing techniques of Judo. Well, when you combine joint manipulation with throws, what do you get? Jujutsu!
Very few jujutsu systems are hard and linear, if any. The entire essence of jujutsu centers around circular movement, leverage and off-balancing. These qualities are hardly exclusive to Aikido. What made O'Sensei a force (pun intended) to be reckoned with was the internal power he learned from Takeda Sokaku, true aiki that very few of O'Sensei's students ever attained. His most prominent was probably Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, and even the source of his aiki is not clear cut as he also studied with Horikawa Kodo of the Daito Ryu Kodokai.
Students of Shodokan Aikido like to claim their art is a living art, that it changes and evolves. Therefore, the "innovations" brought into the art by Tomiki are improvements on what O'Sensei was teaching. While I am not the biggest fan of modern Aikido, to say that any student improved upon what O'Sensei was teaching pre-WWII is still sacrilegious. Those were his Daito Ryu years, when he was still focused on true combative application of internal power. If anything is to be improved upon, it's his later years where he had grown such a disdain for conflict that he devolved his art to a moving meditation and used flowery metaphors to describe what he was doing. This was only worsened by his students and most notably his son Kisshomaru who had never seen combat, had never trained under Takeda, and took these flowery metaphors at face value while neglecting the biomechanical processes that made his father so formidable.
But the question is, was Tomiki Kenji an innovator? He stole Judo's randori concept and added a foam tanto, thereby giving each competitor a defined tori and uke role. Was he a formidable martial artist? For sure. But an innovator? I have to say no. As the only person to attain 8th Dan under both Kano and Ueshiba, he had the opportunity to do something great. What does he do instead? He essentially reformulated classical jujutsu and added a competitive element (and we all know how I feel about sport martial arts). After all, we all know what happens when you try to reinvent the wheel. Don't believe me? Let's compare Tomiki style randori with true internal power:
Obviously the two look nothing alike. You can say the video of Goldberg sensei is fake, which is perfectly fine. But in the aiki world we have a saying: feeling is believing. Until you have felt the subtle power of aiki, you may always be a skeptic. So what is internal power? Unfortunately, there are as many definitions of aiki as there are practitioners of it. Everyone has their own interpretation of it, thanks primarily to how Takeda taught (he modified everything according to the individual student, thereby giving none a complete picture of his art). However, let me attempt to define it based upon the interpretation of aiki in the branch I teach, American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu. Aiki is the systematic process of receiving the force of the attacker, processing it within our body and returning it while exerting little to no force of our own.
Aiki is built around the concept that we all are comprised of energy, so by "blending energy" we refer to when our energies are connected through the point of contact. Rather than through muscular strength, the power of the techniques is derived from three sources: breath, the center line and cohesive movement. By using the body as a cohesive unit (not moving any part segregated from the rest of the body) and projection of the body through the core, power is generated without using any strength.
Timing also plays a major factor in aiki, and aiki can immediately be identified by kuzushi (off-balancing) on contact, as well as spirals and waves that can be seen through the attacker's body although at the point of contact they may be nearly undetectable. All of this is transmitted to the attacker through connection to their internal structure (skeletal and soft tissue). With this understanding of biomechanics, as well as maintaining a relaxed yet focused structure within ourselves, we are able to achieve effortless off-balancing into throws and locks.
So there it is. Is Shodokan Aikido an effective system for self defense? That all comes to down to the training methods, like I'd say about any other art. But is there even remotely a hint of internal power? Absolutely not. Tomiki's art makes modern Aikido look highly sophisticated and advanced in the aiki world, and that's saying something.
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
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The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.