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Magnus Brown 03-23-2004 09:47 AM

Soft Styles
Hi all,

first post but been lurking for a while now.

I keep hearing and reading about "soft" styles of aikido. What do people mean by this and are there any of you out there who would consider yourself to do a "soft" style of aikido? Also what styles are considered "soft"?

From what I've read/heard so far it seems to imply that the "ki" side of aikido is emphasised to the detriment of the martial side. But this sounds like it could be more of a slight at a different style of aikido.

For your info the style I practise is as taught by Kenshiro Abbe, so a pre-war aikido style which seem to be described as not "soft".


Kensai 03-23-2004 11:03 AM


Well I practice under Sensei William's organisation, the Ki Federation of Great Britain and on occasion under Sensei Williams himself. As you will probably know Sensei K Williams took over The Hut when Abbe SEnsei left to teach the Japanese Olympic Judo team.

SEnsei Williams's style has also been heavily influenced by Tohei Sensei and as such I practice what I would consider a 'soft' style. Not that it means its any easier, but the idea of non resistance is more centrally taught than the Aikikai style that I also practice.

I find the main difference is that more 'martial' aspects of AIkido are brought out in the Aikikai, like strong atemi, breaking balance, dead zones and the like. In Ki Aikido, these ideas are brought together through the idea of being light and extending Ki, which seems to me to have the same result.

Magus, where do you practice in Reading? I train with the Ki Federation on Elm Road and the Aikikai on the Reading Uni Campus.....

ndiegel 03-23-2004 12:23 PM

The hard and soft styles could also be split into the Yoshinkan (and like styles) and the more Western and what I feel to be soft styles.

mantis 03-23-2004 01:05 PM

This is a hard one to verbalize, but seems easy to demonstrate.

All I can think of is that in a Hard Style, you sweat a lot more.

I'd like to see how others who experienced both soft and hard styles verbalize it.

I study a very soft style, and we don't really talk about or study about Ki at all.

Tough question, because everyone might have a different point of view based on there size, age and experiences.

aikiSteve 03-23-2004 01:33 PM

I'm not sure the level of sweat is a good judge. I do 2 days a week of a softer style Sensei (Tohei influence) and 2 days a week from a harder style Sensei (Aikikai).

I sweat my ass off at both classes! But that's just me. There are plenty of others in both classes that don't break a sweat at all. Level of sweat is really based on who your uke/nage is. :p

You're right that it's difficult to verbalize, but there is a distinctly different feel when practicing.


Doka 03-23-2004 01:38 PM

In a hard style (Yoshinkan) you feel the throw - you fall or seperate your shoulder, break your arm, etc.

In a soft style (Ki, Aikikai) the attack and throw is not taken to the same intensity. Sometimes so far away from it that there is red shift!


Peace :ai:

Chris Li 03-23-2004 03:57 PM


Mark Dobro (Doka) wrote:
In a hard style (Yoshinkan) you feel the throw - you fall or seperate your shoulder, break your arm, etc.

In a soft style (Ki, Aikikai) the attack and throw is not taken to the same intensity. Sometimes so far away from it that there is red shift!


Peace :ai:

Well, I can think of a few people that you ought to train with before you characterize Aikikai as a "soft" style. In any case, Aikikai is really an umbrella organization, not a style.

Anyway, I would say that the division into "hard" and "soft" schools is primarily illusory - the main difference between most schools is, IMO, teaching methodology and pedagogy.



Doka 03-23-2004 04:08 PM

So name them!!!

I have trained with Aikikai in a number of countries and a number of schools. I train hard and I have come across the soft dojo and Aikikai is soft (non-Iwama - true full-ON! - is soft)!


Chris Li 03-23-2004 04:14 PM


Mark Dobro (Doka) wrote:
So name them!!!

I have trained with Aikikai in a number of countries and a number of schools. I train hard and I have come across the soft dojo and Aikikai is soft (non-Iwama - true full-ON! - is soft)!


Well, until recently Iwama was Aikikai - and even now most Iwama is still Aikikai. Further, Morihiro Saito (who was always Aikikai) was asked by Gozo Shioda to be his successor at the Yoshinkan (he turned him down),

How about Isoyama, Fujita, Arikawa (now deceased), etc.?



mantis 03-23-2004 04:23 PM

I've been giving this a little thought, and I believe it's may be what happens at the point when uke is helpless to resist a technique that dictates a hard or soft style.

First of all I would have to say that for a technique to work efficiently, it should take little strength or power.

That being said, after the off balance/redirection/leading or whatever you do, there is a point in time when uke is at a distinct disadvantage.

i.e. balance is broke bad posture, etc. and tori is at a great advantage i.e. wrist lock etc.

after you have uke in this position, you can break his arm, or gently place him on the floor.

maybe this is what makes the style soft or hard, depending on the attitude tori takes.

Paul Sanderson-Cimino 03-23-2004 08:13 PM

Where does this 'hard/soft' notion come from?

To offer my own input...I have noticed two related but arguably distinct central concepts in aikido. On the one hand, muscling or tension, any excess force, is not in the spirit of aikido; the energy is given by the attacker. On the other hand, when nage/tori/shite/whatever needs to move uke, it is done with a relaxed, whole-body feeling. It may feel like you are not exerting yourself at all, but such movement isn't really 'light', it's just relaxed.

So the distinction between subtle redirection and relaxed-but-powerful movement.

mantis 03-23-2004 10:29 PM


Paul Sanderson-Cimino wrote:
Where does this 'hard/soft' notion come from?

it's noticeable when you encounter it.

Christopher Li wrote:
the division into "hard" and "soft" schools is primarily illusory - the main difference between most schools is, IMO, teaching methodology and pedagogy.

this seems to be true.

Bronson 03-24-2004 01:07 AM

I practice what I would call a soft style. Seidokan was founded by Rod Kobayashi after he left the Ki Society. The best way I can think of to explain it is by re-telling and paraphrasing a story told to me by Eli Landau, a Seidokan instructor in Isreal.

My apologies to Landau Sensei for the mistakes I'm about to make in the re-telling.

I was nearly ready to quit aikido. I was frustrated. All my teachers kept telling me that aikido techniques didn't have to hurt, but every time they did one to me it hurt. Not one of them could do the technique without the pain like they claimed it could be done. Then I met Kobayashi sensei. I grabbed his wrist and he touched me here and I fell down. I attacked again and he touched me over here and I fell down. I got up and thought AHA, aikido doesn't have to hurt! That was when I started following his teachings.

Eli Landau
Again, my apologies for the butchering of the story but that's my memory of it.


Magnus Brown 03-24-2004 03:19 AM

Hmm, some interesting thoughts there, thank you.

The reason I ask is that at training on Monday a 2nd kyu was being told that he had to move away from performing techniques with just strength and move towards doing a more graceful/flowing movement if he wanted to progress upwards, but at the same time told us beginners that we still had to practise "hard" technique. So it seems like as you get better you have to learn to relax more and do better technique rather than force it with strength, which, given the precepts upon which aikido is based is a good thing as your strength will decrease with age.

It does appear to me that there was/is a split between O'Sensei's students, those who follow the earlier styles of aikido which emphasised the martial aspects at a cost to your opponent, and those that follow the later style of trying to reduce harm to your opponent. And these different views permeate down to the teaching of the art from that viewpoint, so that a "soft" style will be taught "soft" from the beginning whereas the hard styles will be taught hard from the beginning. It seems to me very like the split between the Chinese internal and external martial arts. They both lead to the same goalpoint but start from a different point.

Which leads me on to ask do the members here think that doing aikido will necessarily lead to an enlightened view of the world in the way that O'Sensei visualised or is it something that has been developed first by O'Sensei and then taken up by his later students? For me it seems the latter as the pre-war and post-war (to use an often quoted division) techniques apear to be the same, just the application is different. So doing aikido for forty years will not mean you become a compassionate human being, just that you are good at aikido. Your applicaiton of it is still dependent on your personality.


I train in Bracknell at the Ellis school of Traditional Aikido. Been there for about 6 months and am absolutely hooked. I was thinking of coming to some other aikido clubs around Reading to see what they are like, but I think I might wait until I am a litle better (and also have more free time!)

batemanb 03-24-2004 07:08 AM

In earlier years I would have described the more linear styles as "hard", the flowing circular styles as soft. But I have come to believe that hard and soft aikido has nothing to do with any particular style, more with how I achieve the technique.

I try to practice soft myself. What I mean by that is that when uke attacks me, he wants me, I try not to be there. I try to move and create a hole or void where I was standing and guide uke into that hole. Once he's falling, technique can be applied simply and effortlessly, sometimes without pain (probably not the likes of nikkyo though;))

If I don't move enough, or if I try to do a technique too soon, or uke stops, whatever, I will become the conflict for uke. In order to make the technique work at that point, I have to apply more effort, energy and strength. This is what makes the technique hard, at least to me.

I don't think that hard or soft is the issue, for me, I want my Aikido to be powerful, this can be achieved many ways, linear or circular, as long as my timing and movement are good.

I wish I could better explain my thoughts in writing.



jgrowney 03-24-2004 07:45 AM

My experience with soft styles (and the reason I left) had more to do with uke than nage. I saw people taking ukemi before they were thrown, before their balance or center was taken and just because that was what was expected of them. Weak attacks which were anticipating the technique. The general atmosphere from my perspective was one of false security or confidence.

I'm not saying that uke should "feel the throw" becuse that's too late. Uke has given up control of the situation. But as soon as uke's balance or center is taken, he should take ukemi to escape the technique... if that makes any sense.

So for me hard and soft have less to do with technique than with ukemi.


mantis 03-24-2004 09:06 AM


James Growney (jgrowney) wrote:
So for me hard and soft have less to do with technique than with ukemi.

Great point Jim.

Being a good uke doesn't mean just being able to fall good, or just blindly running around the mat. Uke has to simulate a real attack and recovery for a particular off balance.

That's what will teach timing, and will show openings for a counter attack.

Paul Sanderson-Cimino 03-24-2004 10:18 AM

In Yoshokai, we are often told to lead "clearly". Terms like "powerful" are often used, in reference to making full-body movements rather than isolated movements. However, the emphasis is certainly not violent. The idea is to make it clear to uke where to go, and be a good leader, just as uke is studying to be a good follower.

From my limited (~1.5 years) experience, some examples of hardness/softness I've seen:

Soemthing that could go either way, being both a large body movement with a lot of power in it and at the same time being very much a matter of timing and 'flow': opening pivots. Sometimes these are just quick 45-degree pivots (95-degree openers seem to be limited mainly to older techniques), but quite often a technique will begin with a full 180 degree pivot. We twirl like crazy, compared to the practice I see at the Iwama-ryu dojo I train at. For instance, if uke runs in to grab, nage/shite/tori will often allow the grab and simultaneously make a large pivot to pull uke along. Although this seems 'soft', it is actually quite 'effective' if timed correctly; it is surprising how easy it is to whirl someone around if they approach with force.

Something else that seems to be 'soft': strike lead-arounds. For instance, from a strong shomen-uchi, we sometimes 'catch' (lightly) and let them continue to fall forward, pivoting at the same time. It seems very 'soft' in feel. That's not to say it's ineffective, just that it relies more on uke's energy than on nage adding energy.

Ron Tisdale 03-24-2004 11:18 AM

I still don't understand 'hard/soft' after reading this thread, anymore than I did before reading it.

As to yoshinkan, it is a PRECISE style of movement, and a pedagogical method. I wouldn't define it as hard. It does tend to stress the martial aspect, but then so do teachers like Chiba Sensei.

In terms of sweat, the Aikido Kenkyukai group trains harder than most I know (hours at a time, no talking, much suwari waza, lots of sweat), but I'd bet most 'knowledgable' people would describe their technique as 'soft' (right up until the time you hit the mat anyway).

I've heard styles described as





What exactly is this soft? what exactly is hard?


Kensai 03-24-2004 12:45 PM

Having trained in a driviative of Ki no Kenkyukai (Shin Shin toitsu) which is Ki Aikido as I stated above and Aikikai. I'd say the differences are just in the feel. I've sparred some very big strong and light Judoka, I would never really say that Judo is a hard style.

I cant think of any martial system that fits into either bracket. Boxing could be considered hard, but then look at all the evasive foot work, not exactly the mark of a hard stylist.

Then again, you look at those Hsing I guys, that can be pretty hardcore training and they are supposedly soft.

And BJJ, where on earth do they fit. Any 70 + year old man (Helio) that can hold down a 21 year old Yoshinkan 1st Dan (Mits Yamashita) seems very Aikido to me, but then those 2 arts could not be more different.

I think a more usful bracket is, B

Kensai 03-24-2004 12:47 PM

... silly buttons, posts before I'm ready.


Budo, Bujutsu, Sport and Self-defence brackets are more contriversial but easier for analysis than hard/soft.

Goetz Taubert 03-24-2004 12:48 PM

@ Ron Tisdale

"hard" is relying mainly on body-mechanics to exert the technique.

"hard" using strenght to exert the technique or control.

"hard" is applying pain to get the technique to the end.

No idea yet, how to define soft.

Ron Tisdale 03-24-2004 01:27 PM

Hello Goetz, wie geht es einen?

Goetz Taubert wrote:
@ Ron Tisdale

"hard" is relying mainly on body-mechanics to exert the technique.

Ok, but some people describe an art like Taiji as being soley about body-mechanics...a specific way to connect to the ground-path and channel that energy through the bones and ligaments to your opponant. Very mechanical descriptions of vectors, the way the body is built, etc. are used. And Taiji is supposedly as 'soft' art. How would your description reconcile this? After all, every art uses body mechanics of some sort...

"hard" using strenght to exert the technique or control.
Well, I use strength just to stand up. Even to tenkan. Does that make aikido hard?

"hard" is applying pain to get the technique to the end.
ok, well, there is a LOT of pain in some styles of aikido that otherwise might be called soft...the afore mentioned Aikido Kenkyukai might be one example. Their nikajo/nikyo can be excrutiating...but when performed shite/nage is very relaxed, and is using their center to affect the control. I might say much the same thing for Hsing-i or Bagua. So where does that leave us?

No idea yet, how to define soft.
Me either.

Auf wiedersehen...


Goetz Taubert 03-24-2004 03:43 PM

Dear Ron,

just a reply on your comments.

First I did my posting regarding hard and soft concerning aikido not MA as a whole.

If in taichi ki power is directed through bones/ligaments (as physical parts of the body) it just means, that these structures participate. Maybe there are certain requirements for posture to do this the best way. That‘s fine and it's the same in aikido. My statement referred to applying a technique as nage and there are certain technical approaches, which try to control the center of uke by using the the mechanical constraints of bones/ligaments/joints to move/control uke's body. One can do this very good with a hard gripping and nonrelaxed attacker. This sort of technique tend to be hard and often give a short „shock" in the beginning.

Next I‘m really lucky that you too use muscular strength to stand up, otherwise you may have developed a personal „beaming" technique. But I guess, that you don't use more strength than you need, although you could apply a much bigger amount of muscular power with the biggest muscle of your body in the leg while standing up. Using strength means using too much of it. Too much is making technique a muscle contest (Who is stronger?). It also means giving an amount of power, that gives uke the feeling, something bad is going on, which automatically gives him/her the wish to resist/counterattack (I‘m thinking to an uke with ongoing attacking spirit). He/she will be able to resist/counterattack exactely at the point, where the unecessary strength was applied. As a result harmony is destroyed. Often strength is used to catch up with a bad performed technique in the end, so it serves only to hide weakness in technical performance.

Third: Pain. Surely you can perfectly malm a not to strong and bendable wrist with nikyo. Or jou can increase pain just to the level, that uke gives in not to risk injury. In a deeper sense of aikido, this is not effective. Why?: Nage hurts although he/she could also do it without pain. So on a technical level this leaves him/her unsufficient. Uke feels pain and by this gains nothing (For uke feeling pain, it's really not of interest, if nage ist relaxed or unrelaxed whuile exerting pain). If uke is really hurt, nage has damaged his/her training partner, which is a shame on the one hand and silly on the other, because one looses a training partner.

Maybe with this further explanations my statements are better understandable.

Amassus 03-24-2004 10:13 PM

My instructor said to us recently that there is no 'soft' style and aikido is not a 'soft' art, it is a compassionate art. This means that we deal with any given situation with the minimum force to resolve it. This may mean nothing more than a tenkan to avoid an attack, right up to a huge guy bearing down on you and you executing a technique swiftly and harshly to end the fight so the guy won't get up again and smash you.

The art allows for compassion, I think this is important. But to call it soft is misleading.

Only my opinion.

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