Posted by: Eddie deGuzman | October 15, 2008

How to improve your aikido?

by E ddie deGuzman

Aikido looks cool.  That was my first impression of it.  And it’s a defensive martial art so it’s peaceful.  Two cool birds with one, cool stone.  So I learned to roll around and started learning the aiki repertoire which was all well and good except that the techniques didn’t always work for me.  And I noticed they didn’t work for a lot of people.  And I wonder why and there’s no doubt in my mind that others wonder the same thing, or at least they should.  Where does that leave us?

In karatedo, the goal is to quell the violence by annihilating the attacker through speed, power, strategy and spirit.  So, one can try to move faster, hit harder and smarter and shatter the attacker’s will with kiai.  But what should aikidoka, studying the way of peace, do in order to improve?   In theory, the defender blends with the attacker and guides them into a lock, throw or pin.  If we speed up, faster than the attacker, how is that blending?  If we use more strength in our technique, how is that effortless?  How does a conquering spirit lend itself to harmony?

I think it’s necessary, more than learning countless techniques, to first examine how aikido is supposed to work.  And after we understand it’s underlying principles, test our theory through kata and finally randori.  What’s the point in memorizing a gazillion techniques and doing them a gazillion times, if they’re not really working?

I think that we have a great opportunity here to delve deeper into the mat, so to speak, and improve our art and ourselves.  I’d love for aikidoka, or anyone for that matter, to offer any thoughts they may have.  Of course, there’s always the possibility that everyone already understands all things aikido, and I just suck.



  1. My strategy is normally to focus on one small refinement for a week or so and then move onto the next thing. Not in a very organised way. No noticable improvements in a week, but general improvements over the months.

    Without going into the actual details, I’ll be trying something to improve the basics:
    – techniques for keeping myself more balanced
    – techniques for keeping my partner less balanced
    – trying to see the overlap in techniques, like taking a throw that works well (for now at least) and seeing how the same movements can improve a completely different throw.

    I also heard the saying “your expectation always exceeds your ability”. Which I take to mean the more you learn the more you will want to learn, and you’ll never be as good as you want to be. Which is why we can keep on coming back.

  2. Howdy Eddie,

    We probably all just suck. Of course that makes getting better a lot easier as all you need to be is a little less sucky than last time and you’ve made a vast imrpovement.

    As fo, “it doesn’t work” are you talking about your Aikido as a martial endevour that allows you to kick ass? If so, well, that direction is an option. You might want to try heading up Aurora to Tenzan Aikido to get a feel for some very martially applicable Aikido.

    Or, in your own school, you might find some folks your size and start doing randori after class. Start slowly with the convention that you are to focus on real Aiki and not accept “slop shots” even if they work. When you get comfortable at that speed, kick it up notch after notch and watch how techniques change from slow to blazingly fast. You may not need to do the whole tenkan but it is still Aikido!

    You could try cross training in System over at Aikido Eastside and see how that improves your creative flow.

    There are a lots of options. Pick one or a bunch and enjoy them! BTW, if you do any of the above, I’d love to read about it.

    Take care and keep rolling!


  3. Hi James, it sounds like you’re actively seeking improvement. Good for you! Improvement in aikido is a slow snail for sure. I’ve been told there are plateaus of learning in aikido. You train your butt off and improve, but then nothing for ages. Then one day you look around and you are on the next plateau, and so on. Just Monday night I was told that there is a different scene/view of aikido at different levels. And at every new level you are able to have a better/different view of aikido. And as you said, it keeps us coming back.

    Your plan of attack makes a lot of sense and is mostly what I’m focusing on these days; better balance and a better sense of your partner’s balance. Also, why some techniques work very well for me while others don’t and how to carryover success into all techniques. Lots to ponder. Cheers!

  4. Hi Eric, thanks for the advice. This article was written from my perspective 14 years ago and is something to spur a little deeper thinking in some of my fellow aikidoka back home, although, I still think on those same questions and actively seek to improve and perfect my skills.

    Before considering how a technique can be martially effective, I was suggesting that it is important that you can do the technique while employing proper aikido principles insuring that it can be done in the first place. I think there is a tendency for some aikidoka to focus on quantity of techniques learned rather than the quality of aikido learned.

    Good ideas, starting slow and speeding up and no weak attacks and I see nothing wrong with cross training either as long as one art isn’t having a detrimental effect on the progress of the other.

    Recently, I have been experimenting with the karate I learned ages ago and am trying a little cross pollination with my current aikido. I’ll write more on it somewhere down the road. I’m hoping they will be mutually beneficial. Good training to you!

  5. Good posts from an old dog Eddie. =) With respect to quality over quantity..absolutely. I encourage everyone to think back to their last few randori or sparring sessions, or even fights if thats their thing….now think about how many real techniques were utilized to good effect during the entire session. I think what you will find is that you can list all of those techniques on one hand, if that. And most likely all of those techniques will also be ones that you learned in your first session of training, no matter what the discipline. Bottom line, flying kicks and fancy techniques dont win encounters, Kihon Waza does. Everything else is implemented to either teach further understanding of physics and body dynamics, or for gravy. So, use them for what they’re worth, and continue to strive to refine and polish your basics!

  6. True, Bolo, there is such a thing as trying to get too fancy. Simple works because that’s what it is, simple! 🙂 But there’s nothing wrong with a fresh perspective. What would be great is if everyone evaluated their aikido after every workout and tried to find out why some things worked and some things didn’t. Quality assurance in action!

  7. Your post is an interesting read.

    One technique intimately known and fully grasped and understood, with the ability to execute in any given situation, is far better than knowing 1,000 techniques as casual acquaintances.

    To effectively study aikido, among many important elements, one must understand the princples of ‘kaizen’.
    This budo we chose to study requires the understanding and realization that progress is about making gradual improvements each time there is opportunity to step on the mat, or off the mat. It’s about having the mind set that we should always be focused on the basics. Forget everything else because if you don’t understand the basics and the various elements that are interdependent with having effective waza such as maai, reai, kazushi, kake, to name several, your focus is not on the proper things.

    Whether you have just begun the study of aikido, or whether your journey has been for upteen years, if you are not consistently working on and refining the basics, in my humble opinion you are wasting your time and taking up mat space.

    It’s akin to Tiger Woods having a slice. He can spend hundreds of hours on the driving range, but if he doesn’t make that small adjustment with closing the face of his club, it matters not how much time he devotes driving practice because he will continue to have a slice. The same applies with aikido or anything else. If you fail to recognize that certain elements are missing in your waza, it matters not how many hours you spend practicing randori, optionals, kata or anything else on the mat.

    Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Yet we continue to aspire to the level that only O’Sensei possessed. After 14 years of studying aikido, I am continuing to work on the same things my newest student is working on, devloping a a deeper understanding of the basics.

    Now that I have sufficiently overstayed my welcome, I have to rid my family room from a small horde of camel crickets. You know, those mutant looking things that appear to have a hump back.


  8. Sticky Rice, you’re welcome to write more if you like. I find a lot in the things you say. “Kaizen” improvement, should be on everyone’s daily menu. Are there set principles for improvement that I’m not aware of? It would be great to know what they are. Seriously.

    Ma ai, combative distance, I am familiar with. Kazushii, destroying balance or something else, I’m becoming more aware of. Kake, execution of technique, always conscious of this. No one let’s you get away with ineffective technique here. Re ai, a term I’m not familiar with. Perhaps you mean ri ai referring to the whole ball of wax, where our movements become natural responses, so to speak? My Japanese, like my aikido, is not as good as it could or should be…yet! We seldom discuss these things in my dojo. If you’d like to expound on any of these, I’m always willing to learn.

    I studied for 10 years, let’s say, outward aikido, ma ai, timing, kiai, etc. Since I came to Japan, I’ve been studying inward aikido, kokyu, ki no nagare, etc. It, too, is my belief, that correct basics will lead to it all. At first, I knew nothing of the true basics and they weren’t taught to me. Later I felt great aikido and it was freaky-mysterious. Now, the mystery is unraveling and only the freak remains. 🙂
    How are the camel crickets?

  9. LOL, the camel crickets have crossed the river. BTW, Re-ai or Re Ai (whichever is correct) refers to timing. As far as set movements are concerned, all I can say is WOW, we could write an encyclopedia on this subject as it relates to aikido. Yet, I leave this to the scholars; one notable and a favorite, John Stevens. But, for the moment, some important considerations from my perspective are ashi sabaki, irimi, tenkan, not stepping out of the technique, etc., ad infinitum.

    My point of view on movement is this, you are either advancing or retreating (in a manner) during all waza. How effective one’s movements are, are interdependent on a plethora of things.

    For the moment, this is all I have to offer. Time is escaping and I must run to my girls’ soccer games.


    Sticky Rice

  10. I’ll pre-order the encyclopedia! I’ve heard of John Stevens, but have yet to read anything by him. I’m afraid English books are scarce here in Japan.

    Some things you mentioned:

    Ashi sabaki- crucial in this movement based art and necessary for proper body positioning. Something I just found on-line on ashi sabaki:

    “Those six basic stepping techniques are:

    * Tsugi-ashi (shuffle step)
    * Ayumi-ashi (crossing step)
    * Tenkai (hip shift to avoid attack)
    * Tenshin (step and pivot to avoid attack)
    * Tenkan (180 degree pivot to avoid attack)
    * Ude-furi (spin step)”
    I didn’t know that footwork was classified and limited. I’ll have to think on that.

    Irimi-entering, also important and related to positioning for effective technique.

    Tenkan-a turning of the body, diverting an attack. A key concept.

    Not stepping out of the technique-one of the ideas of aikido being to connect with your partner, difficult to do if you’re not in the thick of it.

    Movement makes it all so much easier, doesn’t it! All good stuff to add to the recipe of great aikido jello. 😉

  11. I think that we should more and more how to engage and blend properly with covering our face and body and with more relax and fearless entering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: