I first met Ellis Amdur in 2003 when he was working with the dojo I trained at to assist in retooling their practice according to his five-vector Taikyoku (太曲—"great themes") approach. As this is the first time in a number of years that Ellis has taught an aikido-related seminar, I was pleased that the content was mostly familiar, with his new riffs being more elaborations of the vector approach, rather than any kind of re-imagining.
He started with a warm-up of baduanjin exercises (八段錦 -"eight brocade")—Ellis' approach focuses on stretching and relaxation, particularly of the sinews and connective tissue. He then had us do basic ukemi practice (with Ellis giving his input on some important points - especially related to the forward roll and sitting backward ukemi - consistent with his Ukemi from the Ground Up dvd <http://www.edgework.info/buy-books-on-martial-arts.html
Then we'd review the five themes and their Aikido applications: movements on a vertical plane, horizontal plane (really, figure 8's on a horizontal plane), spiraling upward, spiraling downward and to a single point in space.
Each vector theme is associated with a number of techniques that are readily apparent as soon as one makes the essential movement. For example, Ikkyoku, the first theme of movements on a vertical plane, contains Ikkyo, as well as a couple different forms of entering into oncoming force (i.e. bringing the power of the ground up or dropping the weight/gravity power down-- think suburi). Your intent is not: "I am gonna ikkyo your @#$@#." Rather, you begin to recognize how to best fit into a physical engagement with someone bringing physical force against you using whole body movement along that vector. The techniques, which one has, of course, trained, appear spontaneously.
I started training this way in 2003. It soon became apparent to me that Taikyoku is germane to a great deal more than just Aikido techniques. When I stepped back into amateur boxing in the late 2000s, I was delighted to find that the general movements of Nikkyoku and Sankkyoku also work just fine as a jab, hook and uppercut (not really surprising as Ellis first learned these particular vectors of movement from Kuroiwa Yoshio sensei, a former boxer). When I started cross-training in judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it was fun to explore how just moving the body along those particular vectors would enable setups and applications of throws, chokes and other submissions. The take-home message to all of these different environments was that all I had to do was move my body along the shape of the appropriate Taikyoku position that was available to me.
That's a theme that reoccurred over and over during last weekend's seminar. Virtually every technique in classical Aikido adheres to these five vectors. As a result, even some of the folks that were newer to Aikido were spontaneously applying not just the techniques that go with the basic shapes, but also strikes, alternate techniques and counters to the main technique that are also inherently available by moving the body along the appropriate vector
I must take a moment to thank the great folks at Aikido of Pittsburgh--celebrating 20 years in their current location and Masutani Sensei's 40th year teaching Aikido. They are a gracious and fun bunch to train with and I am already looking forward to the next time I get to step on the mat with them. (And lord, they grow them large there!).
To sum up, the Taikyoku themes fit perfectly within the framework of the techniques performed in classical Aikido. They also link to more universal principles of good movement, whether martial or otherwise, demonstrating how striking, grappling, and efficient body movement can be contained within a relatively simple pattern of core movements.