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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > July, 2006 - The JiyuWaza Game
by Ross Robertson

The JiyuWaza Game by Ross Robertson

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The JiyuWaza Game is a fun training methodology I've developed to familiarize players with energy exchange, fluidity of movement, and spontaneity in the context of aikido. The game encourages a complete freedom from traditional attack and defense forms, while illustrating how these can arise naturally and inevitably.


Players interact in an agreed manner to keep energy constantly moving between them. Each player attempts to stay on their feet while remaining committed to their designated goal, but accepts a fall when necessary and returns to play immediately. No score is kept and there is no victory point. The aim is to cooperate within a framework of inherent conflict, and observe the dynamic pattern as it plays out.

Basic Play

Like any good improvisation, certain rules and constraints encourage exploration and creative discovery. Two players are the basic unit, one representing Solid and one representing Empty (or Full and Space). Players agree on a range of speed which neither should exceed or alter abruptly. Learning occurs more readily when the speed is kept slow and smooth.

The most basic rule is that one player will consistently attempt to "push solid," while the other player "pushes space." At the basic level of play, these roles should remain fixed until the players mutually agree to trade turns.

The Solid player is instructed to seize the hand, wrist, or arm of the other player. Solid then pushes toward the other player, generally aiming for the central axis of the body. This is what we mean by "pushing solid." The main challenge for Solid is to keep adjusting the trajectory to push into a moving target.

The Empty player is instructed to make whatever allowance necessary to open a space for Solid's energy to pass without resistance into open space. This can involve moving the feet to allow for free passage, or allowing perturbations of posture. No resistance whatsoever is allowed, and Empty should never push back in any way. However, on the occasions when forces are aligned, Empty is expected to "push space."

By "pushing space," we mean pushing toward any open area of the room, pushing toward the ground, or pushing into any of the empty areas around Solid's body (over the shoulders, under the arms, or between the legs). Pulling is not allowed, and neither is accelerating Solid's push in such a way that resistance is encountered.

Even so, resistance is likely to be met if Solid is playing the game actively (Solid's job, in effect, is to create resistance through compression). Therefore the dilemma for Empty is when to switch from receptive to active, and back again as necessary.

Despite the prohibition which forbids Empty to push at or into Solid's body, certain exceptions are permitted in order to gain open space. Empty is allowed to make contact with any part of Solid's body (within the bounds of safety and respect). Pushing with Solid's body part is permitted to whatever extent that part moves freely. In other words, if Empty can succeed in pushing space without resistance, it doesn't matter if Solid's body is, for the moment, along for the ride. If Solid's body offers no more resistance than pushing an ordinary door open, then it is allowed. If the "door" is locked, jammed, or feels too heavy, then alternate passage should be sought.

Each player has a secondary agenda of trying to keep their balance by staying on their feet. However, it's perfectly normal for one or the other to need to fall and take ukemi. This is a regular part of play, and the fallen player should recover quickly and return to their designated part. Alternatively, this could be the agreed upon signal to take turns and change roles.

Advanced Play

Once competency with the basics is achieved, several variations present themselves which can enhance the experience. Solid may be allowed to pull as well as push, introducing tension in addition to compression. Solid may be given some leeway to also push space if doing so may lead to a positional advantage from which to better push solid (ie, ducking under Empty's arm to achieve ikkyo or sankyo so as to push Empty's body with their own arm). More players can be introduced into the game.

At higher skill levels, players can dispense with fixed roles. Each must agree to keep an energy flow going, and each must assume responsibility for not sustaining a clinch. That is, two players should avoid pushing solid at the same time.


Students of aikido will inevitably try to map the roles of uke and tori onto Solid and Empty. It is true that there are similarities in these roles, but a strict correspondence would be misleading. The game does not assume that throwing or pinning is in any way part of the agenda. Nor is the game particularly biased as to who might take a fall, if falling occurs at all.

The game is both collaborative and competitive. Players have a shared goal of pushing, but the kind of pushing each is committed to puts them at cross purposes. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the game is how the energy itself tends to resolve this quandary.

In good play, both players are surfing each other's energy. The differing and conflicting goals of pushing solid and pushing empty keep the players constantly adjusting to the changing conditions. Each adjustment necessitates a counter- or corresponding adjustment. The system is highly chaotic, yet moments of synergy emerge spontaneously in the feedback loop.

The system may stabilize for long periods, or may be driven to turbulence. Distortion is recognized by one of two occurrences: 1) Heat and friction is increased, ie, the players find themselves in a clinch. This represents some measure of success on the part of Solid, since both players are now pushing solid. 2) A collapse occurs. Either or both players fall and take ukemi. This represents some measure of success of Empty, since the collapse moves the system primarily toward empty.

Despite the specified terminology, Empty performs best when neither pushing nor pulling. "Pushing space" is really more about a commitment to move only where one has complete liberty to move, and to avoid moving into barriers or obstacles.

Since there is no scoring and no winning or losing, no referee is necessary. It can help, of course, to have a coach (sensei) observing and offering reminders. Players can and should give verbal feedback to each other, particularly during the learning period. It is fairly easy to step outside one's designated role without realizing it.

The JiyuWaza Game may be a step toward Contact Improv (a dance form that has its origin in aikido) but I don't believe it is a step away from budo. As a learning tool, it can be extremely effective at showing where traditional kata forms come from and what their motives are. Kaeshi waza is seen as a natural turning of energy rather than a counter (contrary) measure. The game presents a simple formula for performing powerful yet effortless aikido. Real skill is required to play the game well, but assuming each player is performing fairly, the learning curve is easy and enjoyable.

I would be delighted if readers were willing to try the game out for a while, and post your feedback to this forum.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, TX, USA

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