Posted by: Eddie deGuzman | December 21, 2008

Holistic or Atomistic Aikido, that is the Question!

by Eddie deGuzman

After aikido class Friday night, I was discussing aikido with the other westerner who practices at Kuroishi Sensei’s dojo here in Kitakyushu, Japan.  He’s been practicing a lot lately and will receive his shodan soon.  During free practice, I commented on a technique, how it is necessary to have musubi/connection to the attacker as I’d mentioned to him earlier.  He asked, “What’s musubi, what connection?”  It shocked me that it seemed like a new concept to him.  But then again the Japanese approach to teaching just about anything is very much holisitic.  Here it all is, now go and figure out how to do it.

I visited a dojo my last time back in the U.S.  Perhaps we did 4 or 5 techniques the entire class.  My friend said that it’s always the same at his old dojo.  Here, we’ll probably do 4 or 5 techniques in 4 or 5 minutes.  If we get it right, we do it twice and move on to the next technique.  If you get it wrong, you work on it until you get it or your senpai gets bored.  In an hour and a half class, that makes for a lot of techniques.  So which is better, an atomistic approach, focusing on the details of just a few techniques, or a holistic approach, focusing on a myriad of techniques and trying to absorb or glean understanding from them?  Either way takes years.  I’m used to the Japanese way now and have to say I was quite bored with only 4 or 5 techniques to work on my last trip back home.

It is also true that this holistic aikido approach is interesting in that it spurs one to think on aikido, how and why it works for your senpai/shihan and not for you.  Whether or not you have the patience to continue studying until you understand how things work is another thing altogether.  I was quite frustrated my first couple of years studying.  But then pieces started to fall together.  And they are still falling into place, more and more.  It’s an exciting time for me now in aikido.  I don’t understand everything, but I’m understanding more and more every workout.  But it has been a long, long time coming.

One of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog was about focusing on the basic principles of aikido instead of countless techniques.  The distinction between that post and this post is that there is guidance here towards a deeper, fuller understanding.  If one understands the basic principles, they can be applied in an infinite number of ways.  But if one doesn’t understand and makes no progress towards understanding, then a huge aikido repertoire is pointless.  I say this after floundering in aikido for ten years back home.

I imagine folks would prefer one method of learning over the other, and ultimately if one learns, then it doesn’t matter as long as there is direction and progress.  There is more than one way up the mountain after all.



  1. Aikido sounds like an interesting art. Will be sure to check back on your blog posts. 🙂

  2. For me it’s fascinating! And frustrating! And simply amazing! Thanks for stopping by and happy holidays!

  3. Howdy Eddie,

    I think that, tossing out dozens of techniques or just a handful in the span of a class is more about the dojo’s teaching philosophy than an East-West difference. I’ve seen both styles of teaching in the US and Japan. That said, yeah, we all do have preferences.

    Sometimes, I learn a lot just by focusing on the nitty gritty details of a single technique and will sometimes obsess over one for weeks on end (shiho nage is my current obsession). Other times, it is the flow that feels all-important and I try to make every motion of each technique fluid and graceful. At these times, having a lot of techniques to play with is good.

    So, my take on it is the fuzz-wuzzy: BOTH! Atomistic for those times when learning by dissection is beneficial and Holistic otherwise.

    Happy rolling!


  4. Hi Eric,
    A mixture of both styles would probably fit most people. My feet are very familiar with the middle of the road! It’s true that each technique has it’s own intricacies to sink your teeth into so it’s possible to spend a good deal of time studying a single technique. But you wouldn’t want to miss the forest for the trees. 😉

    Currently I’m focusing on a few things right now. Principle-wise I’m trying to focus on the connection between my center and my hands and have my center initiate movement with all techniques as opposed to only with a few that are easier to understand and do. Technique-wise, yonkyo on two outstretched hands cutting on the outside of uke’s wrists is at the top of the list.

    Thanks for stopping by and Merry Christmas to you!

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