A hammer for all occasions

For most of my aikido life, I've been taught to always, always, always maintain an "unbendable arm." Palm outward, fingers up, elbow slightly bent but with tension in the muscles. The hand should stay, for the most part, in line with my body's center line, and rarely stray outside of the torso "box" (the area defined by my two shoulders and two hips. It looked something like this:

Which is fine, great. The problem I'm coming to find is that was ALL we focused on. We looked something like robots moving around out there, stiff and inflexible, as if someone had simply nailed a 2x4 to the side of our chest. It worked great when it met the needs of the situation, but overall it has quickly become—to me at least—a problem of having only a hammer and all of my problems look like nails.

In the Walking Kata, tegatana no kata, however, we practice a handful of other arm positions that I found I rarely, if ever used. Why? Why were they in the Walk if I rarely used them? Specifically, I'm thinking of these "unbendable arms":

Palm facing upward, elbow tucked in toward the center line.

And palm facing out, fingers sideways, elbow bowing out from the center line.

Not only that, but the transition from a "neutral arm" into the palm up arm has become increasingly interesting and useful, as well as the transition from a "neutral arm" into the elbow out arm, or even the transition from one to the other, rolling at the shoulder joint.

Suddenly, I'm finding it everywhere! It's helping me listen to my body and what a particular structure does for me. In other words, by feeling which muscles are engaged, I can feel what sort of "job" or task my body is then suited best to perform.

So, rather than the "just keep moving and maintain a robot arm" school of thought, I'm learning to conform my entire body to a situation to "fit" the need, to "fit" uke. And all of this is coinciding with recent musing on the subject of "ki" which (believe it or not) was never talked about when my school belonged to it's former governing organization.

Once again, I'm like a kid in a candy store!


  1. This is a standard in I Liq Chuan - finding which parts of the body function in what way and finding the transition to and from neutral. Basically, it means thinking about Yin-Yang and the change point.

    It's a valuable practice, and can be a great diagnostic for figuring out how things ought to work when they're not going quite right.

    In-Yo (Japanese for Yin-Yang) used to be a standard concept in Aikido, too, but not many people talk about it these days.

    1. Exactly! Yin-Yang, In-Yo was not ever talked about over the years. It wasn't until I heard Henry Kono Sensei relate the time when O-Sensei explained that Kono's frustrations stemmed from not understanding yin and yang that I really started to ponder it.


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