View Full Version : Aikido Picayunes: Nawa

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John Driscoll
05-31-2017, 03:55 PM
Recently in the AikiWeb blogs was a posting asking for information as to how to connect one's tanden with your partner's tanden. The request and general responses caused me to believe a column discussing fundamental Aikido concepts and principles would be of interest and value to beginning students and possibly for those more advanced. A unique aspect of the column will be the posting of an associated video on YouTube.

The information presented is based on knowledge acquired during my more than one-half century journey in Japanese combative arts, which included excursions into several Chinese systems. While the views presented are mine, they are based upon observation of my teachers and seniors, discussions with them, combined with my research. I will do my best to identify the original sources of information.

My hope is the columns will generate an interest in these lesser discussed aspects of Aikido and other aiki arts.


In Japanese the word nawa means rope.

Antonio Certa in Daito-ryu Aikibudo History and Techniques, among others, identifies nawa as one of the six main kuden of Daito-ryu.

To understand nawa as a kuden, one needs to examine the nature of rope. Rope is a group of yarns, plies or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form, which is flexible.

If one anchors the end of a rope and begins twisting the rope from the other end, the rope will lose flexibility and become relatively rigid. If the object to which the rope is anchored is movable, the rope can be used to control the object. The same effect can be achieved using a length of chain.

If one envisions the bones comprising a human skeleton as individual links of a chain with the joints viewed as the linkage connecting the links, one will realize that by twisting an extremity the joints can be sequentially locked.

If the extremity is the arm, gripping the hand and applying torque, twisting energy, will result in the wrist joint becoming rigid. Continued application of torque will result in the joints connecting the forearm, upper arm, and shoulder. Continued application of torque will cause the shoulder to effectively lock the spine.

Gaining control of the spine will allow one to control partner's center - tanden, effectively creating a bridge from one's tanden to the tanden of partner.

The first time I was exposed to the concept of nawa was in the spring of 1991 when the late Don Angier, Soke of Yanagi-ryu, visited the dojo of my first Aikido sensei, Tony Tartaglia, in Bangkok, Thailand. One of Angier's students was assigned to the United States Embassy in Bangkok. During the course of his impromptu class at the Mushin Ronin Dojo, Angier touched on a priniciple I believe he referred to as transitional locking while explaining kotehineri, known as sankyo in Aikido.

Nawa or transitional locking of joints has been described in general terms by a number of senior Aikido sensei and teachers of other aiki arts as a method of taking control of the tanden of one's partner. However, I do not recall any of the Aikido sensei referring to this by any specific term, nor do I recall any providing a detailed explanation.

To learn to apply the principle of nawa one needs to work slowly with one's partner.
First, take hold of partner's hand in a sankyo grip and begin applying torque, twisting pressure, to partner's arm. (I find it important to keep the tegatana aligned with the ulna bone of partner.)
Have partner acknowledge when he/she feels their wrist beginning to lock.
Continue to slowly apply torque until partner advises in turn his/her elbow, shoulder and spine feel locked. At that juncture one has effectively taken control of partner's center - tanden.
Repeat the exercise until one feels comfortable with the angles required and the subtle application of torque.One can now begin incorporating the skill into one's general training.

It is important to understand the torqueing energy comes from the tanden and not the arms. The tanden is the source of energy that moves the torso. In turn the movement of the torso causes the movement of the arms; the arms do not initiate action. The role of the arms is to solely transfer the movement of the torso to one's partner. As Chuck Clark sensei says, "The arms are connectors, not effectors!"

The paradigm may be repeated with ikkyo (udeosae), shihonage, kotegaeshi or any other Aikido technique.Martial Arts Biography - John E. Driscoll

I began training in Kodokan Judo in 1962 and trained continuously until mid-1991 serving as an instructor and dojo cho of several Judo clubs. While I had some limited exposure to Aikido, it was not until 1987 that I had an opportunity to train consistently in Aikido. My journey in Aikido began at the Royal Thai Aikido Association in Bangkok, Thailand in 1987 and during the first half of 1991 trained with Tony Tartaglia sensei. Upon returning to the United States in 1991 due to my transfer from Bangkok to Baton Rouge, Louisiana I trained for approximately six months in Tomiki-ryu Aikido. A Saotome sensei's Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU) dojo opened in Baton Rouge, so I spent the next three and one-half years training at the ASU dojo. In 1996, I was transferred to Washington, D.C., while there I trained at as work allowed at an ASU dojo and a United States Aikido Association Affiliated dojo. In 1999, I was reassigned back to Bangkok and returned to training with Tartaglia sensei, eventually being promoted to shodan by Nishio Shoji sensei. In 2002, I returned to Washington, D.C., training in Iwama style Aikido under Yvonne Thelwell sensei at Aikido of Arlington, receiving my nidan in 2006. After my retirement from the Drug Enforcement Administration, I relocated to Covington, Louisiana, in 2005 and established Aikido Nord du Lac. Aikido Nord du Lac is an Iwama style Aikido dojo affiliated with the Takemusu Aikido Association and is located in Mandeville, Louisiana, which is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans. I am now under the supervision of Aviv Goldsmith sensei, and have been promoted to sandan in 2010 and yondan in 2015.

My Aikido has been greatly influenced by Tony Tartaglia, Yvonne Thelwell, and Aviv Goldsmith, as well as Aviv sensei's teacher Wolfgang Baumgartner. The writings and personal contacts with Ellis Amdur and Stan Pranin, as well as the writings of British judoka Geof Gleason, have influenced my understanding of the principles of Aikido and my analysis of Aikido techniques. Because of my career in law enforcement my Aikido focus has been on applied techniques, oyowaza, which of necessity must work in real combat. In addition to my ranks in Aikido and Judo, I hold a shodan in Isshin-ryu Karate, and have trained in Toyama-ryu Battodo, the Taichi of Cheng Man Ching, and Hsing-Yi as taught by members of the Kuo Ming Tang who evacuated to Thailand from China.

06-05-2017, 08:18 AM
Congratulations on your first article, John Sensei. Very clear demonstration and explanation of the concept. I'm looking forward to more of these.