View Full Version : Names of aikido techniques- how did they arise?

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02-21-2002, 05:53 AM
Hi there,
everybody knows that e.g. "shiho nage" means "a throw in four directions", "tenchi nage"- "a throw of heaven and earth" etc. My question is: did O'sensei name all the techniques or did several names appear by chance in another way?



02-21-2002, 06:06 AM
I'm sure there is someone on Aikiweb with a more authoritative answer, but when Ueshiba started teaching, he taught Aiki-jitsu. Some of the original names seem to be kept by Yoshinkan, but they are very similar (I think they call ikkyo, ikkajo). Many of the original names for the techniques in aiki-jitsu seem to be more complex, though they are often similar to what we call them now. Even after Ueshibas death it seems the names continued to change, with kokyu-nage and sokumen irimi-nage getting swapped round.

At the end of the day, the names are just descriptions in Japanese (e.g. kote-gaeshi - wrist twist). I do like the way we keep the Japanese names, since aikido is a global phenomena and we both instructors and students often travel to other countries to train (and therefore we can pretty much understand each other).


02-21-2002, 06:22 AM
I'm sure I've read up on this a bit somewhere. I think the nomenclature might have come from Kissomharu and Tohei.


02-21-2002, 07:03 AM
Thanks, guys. I heard that the names had arisen a long time before Tohei sensei has founded The Ki Association. Perhaps Peter would help us a little. He is just, so to say, at the source of knowledge.:D

02-21-2002, 07:11 AM
The names may very well predate the Ki Society, but that wouldn't mean Tohei Sensei wasn't responsible (I also heard the naming was by O Sensei's students as they taught theirstudents, that O Sensei was not into naming much. Or explaining much.). Despite the aiki-airbrushing that has gone on, Tohei Sensei was probably a major influence on many of the students (and later Shihans in their own right) while he was still the most senior student of O Sensei during his lifetime, and before he left to found the Ki Society.

02-21-2002, 07:22 AM
Thinking about how the names may have come about brought to mind something that happened with an ushiro-waza kata-tori technique: Our instructor, working with my partner and I, explained a movement 'like an airplane', finally getting the light to go on over our heads. I've been to several seminars from his shihan, and I've never heard him call this 'the airplane technique'. And our instructor uses its full Japanese name in teaching. But from that day forward, we know it as 'the airplane technique'.:D

we do, however, refraining from making airplane noises while doing it. Usually.

02-21-2002, 11:28 AM
Originally posted by ian
At the end of the day, the names are just descriptions in Japanese (e.g. kote-gaeshi - wrist twist).
Kote means forearm and kaeshi means roughly "to return". Wrist twisting would be "tekubi hineri".
With that said, Japanese nomenclature has undergone a lot of changes. In the feudal era, techniques were not done as single faceted movements; they were incorporated into larger kata that developed timing, strategy, posture. Since it was a feudal time, teachers did not always want other schools learning what they were teaching. This disguising of nomenclature is apparent in the weaponmaking vs. armormaking arts of feudal Japan. Take also into account that during the Tokugawa regime, people were not allowed to leave their areas (villages) without permission from a governmental authority. Different names of techniques, even though technically similar, abound.
Within the "Daito Ryu" (which was not called that until two "generations" before Ueshiba received its teachings) we have things like the ikkajo (ikkyo), the nikkajo (nikkyo), etc. These are not descriptive at all, reflecting the feudal mindset towards education and suspicion of other schools.
Then a man named Jigoro Kano comes along and starts Judo and offers a new public martial art devoid of old license requirements, replacing it with a belt ranking system. He takes the names of techniques from two older jujutsu schools and names them according to principles and descriptions the average Japanese person can understand. Voila, new nomenclature, that would later be absorbed by other new budo like kendo and aikido in method. The "middle children" of Ueshiba Sensei had a lot to do with naming the techniques we know of today, and there was a lot of cross pollination between gendai budo schools during the time. Unfortunately, the result of that in the West is that we are results oriented rather than process oriented, and so we view the techniques as independent outcomes, rather than through the classical model of skill sets developing strategy, timing, etc. The terminology reflects this mentality. New teachers have come along and recognized this deviation, and there is now a return to the classical from the perspective of the modern. So that leaves us the job of determining what is significant (and giving new meaning to the usage of terms, if necessary, like Colleen says) and keeping things pure (like kote gaeshi). :)

Jim Vance

02-21-2002, 12:53 PM
That is one of the best posts on this subject I've ever read.:)

I don't know why we don't start calling nikkyou by it's real name.. Really painful right angle wrist twist of the misty dragon going through waterfall technique.

02-21-2002, 09:00 PM
Sounds good to me. ^_^


Peter Goldsbury
02-21-2002, 11:21 PM
Originally posted by bujin
Hi there,
everybody knows that e.g. "shiho nage" means "a throw in four directions", "tenchi nage"- "a throw of heaven and earth" etc. My question is: did O'sensei name all the techniques or did several names appear by chance in another way?



Hello Juliusz,

When visiting shihans come down here from the Aikikai Hombu, it has fallen to me to take them out to dinner after training and entertain them. I usually do this by asking them questions that my Japanese colleagues could not, or would not, ask.

So I once asked Tada Hiroshi Sensei this very question and he answered that the Founder did not use names for the techniques. He simply showed them and the deshi themselves thought of names (more descriptive terms, as Jim Vance suggests) as a memory aid. Other teachers who studied under O Sensei said the same thing.

The change from the 'Ikkajo', 'nikajo' of Daito-ryu and O Sensei's aiki-budo of the Kabukan years was postwar. 'Ikkyo', 'nikyo' etc, appear in "Aikido", by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, first published in the late fifties, I think. But these names are always accompanied by descriptions.


02-22-2002, 04:48 AM
Thank you, Peter.
I was wondering whether any codification of techniques ( or to be more precise- codification of their names) took place in the past. It is then the case,please correct me if I am wrong, that one cannot point any moment in time since which the well- known technique is called throughout the world e.g. "nikyo" .



02-22-2002, 10:55 AM
An interesting comparison would be with Chinse chin-na(the jujutsu found in kung fu), if that made any sense.

Each technique has a name - sankyo, as we aikidoka know it, is called "Send the devil to heaven", and one variation of nikkyo is "break the wild chicken's wing".

Dunno, but thats nicer than 2nd form :)


02-23-2002, 12:37 AM
Haha breaking the wild chicken's wing?
How apt! I remember when i was still a beginner learning nikyo instead of moving in i moved out stupidly and was screaming and writhing and yes like a wild chicken...

Haha i love chinese names...:) Especially their names for 'other' stuff...Playing the jade stalk. Go figure:)

Bruce Baker
02-28-2002, 07:23 AM
I see there is one sensible voice who asks the Japanese sensei's questions, and doesn't create fantasy?

I think we should start using english terminology, then add the japanese terms as we do them. As a bi-lingual custom of politeness, it would be an additional encouragement for those who wish to grasp the cultural crossover. Like most things learned in other languages, you learn things you do, or curse words, which is the second thing I learn ... so you have some concept if someone is saying thank you or #$%##@!

Just imagine you have been sent to a country where you don't know the language? How would your english description of techniques be viewed or interpreted? How long would it take you to learn the language to interpret if your lessons are correctly conveyed?

That is why we begin with immitation, we learn by doing, and we understand by thinking ... all three processes become one in the journey to understand and convey meaning, both to yourself ... and others.

This past week, I went to a seminar that used sounds to knock people out. This brought to mind, some older sensei's who had trained with O'Sensei who were talking about Americans not understanding the extended sounds of Japanese language and the sounds used in Aikido practice. Of course it delved slightly into the sounds that O'Sensei would use to move objects, or interrupt birds in flight, which is visible on an early video of Aikido and O'Sensei.

So with all the mysteries of language, whether it is Tomato, or tomatoe ... just make sure you understand what each other is doing in practice. Cause no matter what you call the technique, it must work, as it has worked for thousands of years ...

02-28-2002, 08:24 AM
Originally posted by Bruce Baker
I think we should start using english terminology, then add the japanese terms as we do them. As a bi-lingual custom of politeness, it would be an additional encouragement for those who wish to grasp the cultural crossover.I agree that a more "literal language" would encourage better transmission, but there are two arguments that stand in the way that I cannot as yet reconcile and come to full agreement with you.
1. Japanese has first dibs. What language are we going to replace it with that would translate the same and be accepted worldwide? A dead scientific language like Latin would be great, but we would still have to learn Latin.
2. Japanese has kanji, which contain all sorts of nuance and supplies a rich undercurrent to understanding the techniques. Granted, most practitioners are not using the kanji, but if serious, generally pay attention to it when trying to penetrate some problem, get further insight, etc.
Reconcile those points to a worldwide audience, and you will be on to something.

Jim Vance

Bruce Baker
03-16-2002, 11:39 AM
The only reason express teaching in the mother language of a particular country, is that the human brain learns to think in the terms of one's mother tongue, and, even when learning another language, translates thoughts into a mother tongue before translating words.

There are a very small percentage of people who can think in other languages, but the poor grammar, accent, and placement of descriptive adjetives prooves otherwise. (let alone bad spelling, mine included, because of stealing words from other languages over the centurys?)

I do not wish to disrespect the validity of the Japanese culture, I have a number of college credits in japanese and chinese history studies, but if this type of teaching helps us to get there a bit quicker with understanding, let's do it!

If numbering your techniques works for you with subtitles, do it. So long as you can communicate what you are learning, have learned, and will learn with proper thought and action ... you might not need to speak at all?

03-17-2002, 08:46 AM
Personally, i'm quite happy sticking with Japanese names (this is moving from US to France, so you can see why). But what would be nice is a cross-dojo translation table.

Something like

ki society | ffaaa
--------------------- + ------------
ikkyo irimi | ikkyo omote
kokyu nage tekubitomi | irimi tenkan

And then nice little gaps to show concepts that dojos don't share. Something like that would be useful for the first couple weeks. Or maybe even an aikido naming standards initiative... bah... but that's me thinking like a computer guy.

Dan Hover
03-17-2002, 01:25 PM
I think Mr. Vance is about the closest to the real answer on this, Aikido nomenclature indeed comes predominately from DTR (i.e ikkyo from Ikajyo) but the original naming system was Takeda's. As Takeda was somewhat illiterate, and charged by the technique, he had no way of knowing who owed him what. So if his student showed him the last thing he learned was Sankajo then Takeda, would a) know how much the student owed him and b) what the next lesson was. This is carried over today as ikkyo- gokyo are predominately taught in order 1-2-3-4-5. This also accounts for "lost techniques" being the 6th and 7th in the series. Now the suffixes "kyo" vs. "ajo" translate out as teaching and technique respectively, this is something O'sensei changed to bring them into line with his shift from a jutsu application to a do style. In so far as irimi-tenkan and Ura omote debate goes on, This is one of Nidai Doshu's biggest accomplishments, being the standardazation of nomenclature of waza. By doshu's classification, kihon waza was based on 5, 5 pins ikkyo-gokyo, and 5 throws, iriminage, shihonage, kaitennage, kotegaeshi and tenchinage, 5 footworks, tsuri ashi, ayumiashi, tenkan, tenkai, okuri-ashi, and lastly 5 handworks, uchi-gaeshi, soto gaeshi, uchi-mawashi, soto-mawashi, and O- mawashi. This somewhat simplified technique as one irimis in both ikkyo omote and ura. Albeit one must remember that omote and ura refer to physical location, whereas irimi and tenkan refer to physical movement. any questions??

03-19-2002, 11:07 AM
We all agree that aikido was born out of the Daito ryuha form of unarmed combat namely daito ryu aiki jujutsu. We also know that aiki jujutsu uses the terms ikkajo to gokajo. What needs to be realised is that these terms are simply that, terms. They are not names of techniques. Ikkajo to gokajo are the "Shiden Mokuroku", the first 118 techniques of aiki jujutsu.
Ikkajo comprises of 30 techniques one of which, ippon dori resembles what we know as ikkyo. It is called Ippon dori within aiki jujutsu. Nikajo also comprises of 30 techniques, as does Sankajo. Yonkajo comprises of 15 techniques and gokajo comprises of 13 techniques. These being the 118 of the Shiden mokuroku.
As far as I am aware each of the "jo's" has within it a technique similar to the technique that we would recognise as being ikkyo for example. However they also contain vastly different techniques for example ikkajo contains koshi guruma what we call koshi nage and gokajo contains shimoku what we call ganseki otoshi. As to the so-called missing techniques I cannot comment other than to say that rokajo etc are not found within the Daito ryu aikijujutsu curriculum.
Again I cannot say why the Yoshinkan use the names ikkajo-gokajo for their first five techniques. Perhaps it is a throw back to Takeda sensei or perhaps O'sensei decided only to teach these forms from the sets.
What is clear though is that someone systemised our techniques as they are generally very cut and dry Japanese descriptions or rather flowery ones, i.e. kote gaeshi, hiji kime osae all the way to tenchi nage and ganseki otoshi.
I have heard sensei use cut and dry terms such as ude osae, kote hineri, kote mawashi etc etc for our first five osae waza. It is a very intriguing question one that deserves proper academic research. But I restate the need to not draw our own conclusion without firm evidence to so.

Yours faithfully