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10-13-2003, 07:15 PM
I've been studying Contact Improv for a little while. It's a dance form with strong historical and philosophical roots in Aikido. Recently I volunteered to facilitate an informal 2 hour gathering of contact dancers with an eye to giving them a small taste of Aikido. My hope is to spend about an hour on more Aikido-like stuff and then to open into exercises that leave more room for dancing and improvisation.

My question is this:

Do people have ideas of exercises that I could use to get the ideas of Aikido across which

Can be done without mats
Allow for a lot of movement
Focus more on the interaction and movement in Aikido and less on its martial applicability

I know it's a little bit of an oddball request, and I have some ideas that I'm playing with, but any input at all would be appreciated! ;)

10-13-2003, 07:25 PM
hey Opher

Just about Any dance improv exercise can be applied to Aikido-i'm talking not necessarily contact but traditional "lead/follow" and mirroring exercises. Tenkan & irimi for sure.Partnered walking-positive person walks forward with hand on the upper chest of the receptive person, feeling how our bodies relate in movement. The "blending dance" from Richard Moon's video-go through techniques slowly & gently as a stretch & partnering exercise."getting off the line" which is exactly that. I wish i could describe the exercises in Wendy Palmer's Concious Embodiment work, which are derived from Aikido and used to observe ourselves in relationship, they are easily picked up by both aikidoists, dancers & just regular folks; but it would be like me trying to describe Iriminage!how bout kokyu ho without the fall?

sounds like a great class, good luck with it.

10-13-2003, 11:00 PM
Take a look at Ki in Aikido: A Sampler of Ki Exercises by Carol M. Shifflett ISBN 0-96534-253-0 available at Round-Earth Publishing (http://shop.store.yahoo.com/roundearth/kiinaiksamof.html).

Look at the AikiNews footage of aikido practice in occupied Japan, where "martial arts" weren't allowed, so people practiced gymnastic exercises that involved no throwing, but was still aikido.

Children and the Martial Arts by Gaku Homma ISBN 1-55643-139-2 also shows basic exercises that can be done by novices. There are also several nice interactive games that you can use to demonstrate various principles.

10-14-2003, 07:35 AM
Hi Opher,

you should try and see Henry Kono at some point (up in Toronto but visits the US sometimes). His training is ALL sensetivity training and no 'technique' though amazingly the techniques drop out very easily. Very hard to explain in writing but I'll try (apologies for length of post):

Main concept: when nage makes contact with uke the centre is no longer his own centre (hara) but the joint centre of the two people.

try: nage has flats hands together in front of waist (arms bent but extended in relaxed way). Uke hold nage's hands and pushes directly forwards. Nage moves gradually back and to the side ensuring consistant contact with uke. When nage turned enough they can push in the same direction as uke is pushing (like a very slow sumi-otoshi).

Also, uke can try pushing upwards, downwards and nage follows exactly. It is imperative that nage keeps hands in same position (in front of center line) and moves their feet and body only. Also, nage must stay upright (bending knees only). With can result in irimi-nage, kaiten-nage type techniques. Nage can raise and drop arms (together) but only in response to uke's motion.

Try: same thing but with nage's hands apart (can get more realistic sumi otoshi, ikkyo)

Try: ai-hanmi grab, uke pushes with one hand. Nage first moves to inside (slightly) in circular backward motion. Then they move all the way around the shared centre point (point of contact), to get to outside of arm - it is very important that uke pushes slowly and consistantly and nage neither pulls nor resists (a small consistant pressure is best). This position is then Ok for ikkyo - don't force, but continue by holding uke's elbow and wrist and walking forwards in same direction as uke.

ALL aikido techniques can drop out of this type of motion. The important thing is to keep the hands in the same position in front of your body (except can move up and down) and to move your feet rather than trying to move your hands (hands are ABSOLUTELY responsive to uke). With the ikkyo technique it is easy to see if it is done right - if uke feels a pull or push they should resist (if nage tries to force ukes arm up it is easy to resist since nage is using arm and not body). Can also try with flat of hand for contact - thus if disconnection it means nage is either pulling or pushing.

Hope this helps, hard to explain without feeling it.


10-14-2003, 08:54 AM
Hi Opher !

Is this danceform the one that is called Buto ?

10-14-2003, 09:37 AM

You might want to talk with Nick Kiritz at the DC dojo. Last time I talked to him he was practicing Ball room dancing to augment his Aikido.



10-14-2003, 10:46 AM
Thanks for the replies so far, they've been thought provoking. Definitely keep them coming.
Is this danceform the one that is called Buto ?
No. I hadn't heard of Buto before you asked the question so I looked it up. It seems to be 'about' finding movement that is simultaneously authentically Japanese and, at the same time, ultra-modern or post-modern in the sense of rejecting the aesthetics of beauty that govern either traditional Japanese dance or Western dance. Here is a link to what I was reading: Butoh (http://www.xs4all.nl/~iddinja/butoh/)

Contact Improv is a dance form that was 'invented' in the 1970s by Steve Paxton at Oberlin and in New York city. It is usually danced in pairs, although not necessarily the heterosexual pairing of most social dance forms, and involves an interest in how one partner transfers weight into the other and how the other partner receives and supports the weight. Pictures and descriptions can be found on this site contact improv.net (http://www.contactimprov.net/). It involves a lot of leading and rolling and falling, like Aikido does.
Tenkan & irimi for sure.You mean just having them do some tenkan and irimi? On their own or with a partner? I wondered about this and actually rejected it as fairly 'abstract.'
The "blending dance" from Richard Moon's video-go through techniques slowly & gently as a stretch & partnering exercise.Which video is this? Is the blending dance where you go through the techniques slowly and gently or are those two different things?
I wish i could describe the exercises in Wendy Palmer's Concious Embodiment workDo you know where I could get hold of a video or a book?
Look at the AikiNews footage of aikido practice in occupied Japan,Do you know where I can find this? I'll definitely look up those books you mentioned.

Ian, thanks for the involved description. It's actually similar, I think, to the blending dance that Jo was talking about, if I understand both correctly. What I like about your description (if I understood it) is the idea of starting with the two hands together in front of center. This could really help get across the idea of centeredness, which is very different in Aikido and in Contact.

Mark, I think I know Nick, but I'm not sure. Do you have an e-mail? I'd just go down for practice, but I'm not sure if I'd catch him.

Again thanks all and keep it coming.

10-14-2003, 06:59 PM
hi Opher

Wendy does have a tape, go to:


this is less about "movement" than relating but theres some stuff i think you can use.

Richard's video "Aikido in 3 'easy' lessons:well it seems aikidoofmarin.com is down but try anyway...- yes it looks to me like very slow, flowing techniques with no throws or falls (or very few).beautiful stuff, in any event.

then there's tango. much more aikido-like than ballroom....

10-14-2003, 08:51 PM
Thanks. Do you have any thoughts about the relative value of the book or the video? I don't have a VCR and the book is much cheaper ... :) The same question goes for the Richard Moon video. It's on DVD so at least I can view it, but there's also a book which is much cheaper.

10-15-2003, 08:32 AM
I haven't seen Wendy's video but i don't think the book can provide the kind of visual you need. Same with the Moon video but i think you've already got the idea of that one- slow blending, slow,throw-less technique.

How about starting with a vocabulary of movements we use-easiest katatedori tenkan & irimi, maybe iriminage,shihonage,kaitenage-all these are quite simple when the "element of danger" is removed. I guess i'm repeating what Ian said but it looks like i might actually have more of a clue than i thought!

I've been using ukemi in my solo improv dance, i find a roll comes easily where a kick used to go...will you have mats?

Anyway if you're working with experienced contact dancers i don't think it will be as difficult as it seems...when your seminar gets invited to the west coast can i be your uke?

10-17-2003, 09:54 AM
I've been talking to friends of mine about this little project and wanted to share some thoughts with anyone who is interested. The discussion uses terms and concepts from contact that may not be familiar to people. Please feel free to ask if there is something you don't understand but would like to.

Irimi/tenkan: Many people say, "irimi / tenkan" but I'm stil not quite clear about how to meaningfully extract what is important about these notions in a way that makes 'sense' in the world of contact improv. One thought that occurs to me is that irimi and tenkan teach two important principles that are at the heart of Aikido: using the power of your hips to move the other person and making space for the other person to fill. Both of these seem like they might have more direct relevance for the people I'm working with and that an exercise could be developed around these principles which would also teach the specific movements.

The idea of unbalancing: this, I believe, is a core idea of Aikido that would transfer well into contact improv but is also relatively unfamiliar. In contact, the dancers are so willing to unweight and unbalance that the idea of taking balance doesn't usually come up. On the other hand, it is such a beautifully complementary notion to the contact idea of 'offering support' and 'inviting someone to take a ride' that I'm sure that people will take to it. It also offers an opportunity to bring contact people more gently into the idea of 'intention' by making games where the two sides play with cooperative vs. opposing interests.

Intention: Aikido and contact both talk about 'being in the moment' and 'letting go of expectation.' However, in Aikido we let go of expectation without letting go of intention, while in contact there is also an idea of not 'intending' or 'trying to get anywhere.' (I know we say this in Aikido, too, but in contact they really mean it). This is reflected nicely in the way the eyes are used in the two different arts. In Aikido, the eyes have direction while in contact most often they don't and often the eyes are simply closed. I think that an exercise working on gaze and the intention to get to a certain place (with each side having a different intention) might be very interesting.

Techniques: I think that I should teach at least one or two techniques. Otherwise, it will all likely feel much too abstract. Because contact people are basically quite good at falling, I imagine that irimi-nage (which involves a lot of contact) would be a very good one. One option to think about for a second technique would actually be a koshi (after all, they are used to going up and down) although that might be something to play with at the end. Shiho-nage makes for an interesting play of full-body contact and work on a small joint.

Staying grounded: I imagine that the whole notion of staying grounded and upright will be one of the most alien concepts for the dancers. I thought about using the metaphor of a heavy shopping cart that moves easily when pushed, but is very grounded. This connected back, to me, to Ian's description of playing with pushing on each other.

Whew. That's enough for now. Anybody who waded through all this and wants to chime in should feel free. Thanks for taking the time.

10-17-2003, 10:12 PM

A couple of guys in our dojo have taken the contact-aikido connection and used it as the basis for their dance company:


Rob & Sete both perform, train and teach - also doing a lot of youth work. You might like to contact them directly (details on the site).

We always get an influx of dancers ito the dojo after they perform ;-)

10-18-2003, 02:00 AM
Actually, that's an excellent idea. I remember running across their web page a year or more ago, but the bookmark got lost in one of my frequent browser migrations. I'd love to actually see them dance!

10-19-2003, 10:11 PM
hi Opher

just quickly cause i'm brain dead-

what i meant by irimi & tenkan is the basic blending practice we do in our dojo. up till i started test training i had no idea what the terms meant in the context of my dojo cause we never used them but on my 5th kyu its listed as katatedori irimi & tenkan so thats the best clarification i can make.

you want ballet terms, now that i can do...

10-20-2003, 10:48 AM
Do you know where I can find this? I'll definitely look up those books you mentionedSorry, I can't. I saw it with a bunch of 8mm home movies converted to video. These are sold by AikiNews and were actually the product of home movie-making that filmed aikido during the Japanese occupation. I can't tell you which one it is because it didn't even have a title.

If you ask them, I'm sure they'll be able to tell you which video it is.