Thursday, February 23, 2017


(thanks for the inspiration Edwin and Sea)

Note the GIF video above.  It shows a basic sword-taking technique from aikido; part of a series called Tachidori (太刀取り).  These techniques (including Tantodori) are part of the black belt level curriculum in many Aikido styles.  As one of my friends pointed out "any reasonable swordsman would have cut the other down".  Very true.  As part of modern practice, the tachidori techniques help aikidoka learn proper fighting footwork as well how to enter, make contact, and remove the weapon - something which cannot be learned or understood just with empty hands.

At the same time, even done smoothly, as above, it doesn't look like it works with anything other than a very compliant sword-wielding partner.  Unfortunately, this is true of much of the aikido repertoire, for a variety of reasons.

When I look at this GIF, I see a very different series of movements "hidden" inside it.  I see a very ballistic Tai Atari (body to body strike) followed by a savage elbow combination as the turning entry is done (if the opponent is still standing).  At that point, the sword is relatively easy to remove.  With good timing, the entry is under the sword and directly into the ribcage.  Otherwise, it is hip to hip, with the elbows delivered into the centerline sternum or face.  Look at the GIF again. Can you see what I see?

Just as when watching traditional Balinese or Filipino dance, or Okinawan karate kata for that matter, there is a skill in being able to see the fighting technique behind the motion, the way that the movements can be used to disrupt the other's structure and balance.  Observing and interpreting movement is the basic for the animal styles found in many styles of Kung Fu, Silat, and other Asian martial arts.   Often times the original technique is not taught for safety reasons, or simply because the teachers themselves have never understood the deeper application.  While battlefield combat is (thankfully) not a likely event for most of us in modern times, the original techniques certainly did not assume a compliant adversary.

Tai Atari (体当たり) as shown above are some of my favorite aikido movements.  Striking with the body is a devastating way to move the opponent off position and off balance.  These techniques are usually applied with the hips, shoulders or side of the body, driven ballistically against the opponent's hips or chest, preferably by moving forward when the opponent closes distance causing a "car crash" effect.  The resulting impact is often enough to knock the opponent off their feet and/or to the ground, regularly winding them in the process.  In some cases, the impact and crash is enough to crack the pelvis/ribcage and cause severe internal injury.  It is difficult (and painful) to practice this.  Old schoolers used to do tai atari against a strong tree trunk, a training drill emulated by some Judoka.

In traditional swordsmanship Tai Atari was considered a killing move, and one which would not even grant the opponent the dignity of being cut down.  One which would be delivered almost with disdain.  Minamoto Musashi writes,

"The Body Strike means to approach the enemy through a gap in his guard. The spirit is to strike him with your body. Turn your face a little aside and strike the enemy's breast with your left shoulder thrust out. Approach with a spirit of bouncing the enemy away, striking as strongly as possible in time with your breathing. If you achieve this method of closing with the enemy, you will be able to knock him ten or twenty feet away. It is possible to  
strike the enemy until he is dead. Train well.

He was not wrong.  As he says "Train well."

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