Kokyu Nage is frequently translated as “Breath Throw.” Aikido has a very large number of techniques that can be considered Kokyu Nage techniques. A search on youtube will leave the viewer perplexed. Some techniques appear to occur without any contact between the nage and the uke, while other techniques look like brute displays of strength that can be observed in Judo and Wrestling. To make matters more difficult for people, most Aikidoka talk about the many years of practice that they have put into to this art before they even remotely felt like this class of techniques were truly effective.
I view this class of techniques as an in-depth category that requires a lot of important aspects of our art to come together simultaneously in order to execute an effective technique: 1) Shisei (posture) is a critical aspect. Without proper posture, it is difficult to breathe properly (after all, these are breath throws). Without proper posture, it is difficult to be able to receive and simultaneously redirect the force of the attack. Without proper posture, maintaining one’s center is exceedingly difficult. 2) Breathing is a critical aspect. People frequently hold their breath when they are being attacked. A person cannot hold their breath for very long. Holding one’s breath creates a lot of disabling tension inside of one’s body. It is hard to move freely and easily while holding tension in your body. 3) Ki, or life energy, is an integral part of our art. We need to connect this energy with the energy of the attacker and maintain this connection from the beginning of the attack to the end of the technique. This enables us to manipulate the attacker at an internal level, as opposed to simply utilizing leverage, momentum and a host of other physical factors. 4) Centripetal Rotation(rotation into center) is a hallmark of this technique. We take the force of the attacker and attach it to our centripetal rotation. Anything that is attached to a centripetal force is moved in a centrifugal manner (rotation away from center). Our centripetal rotations can occur as spiraling upward, and downward (although both should be occurring at the same time to harmonize energy movement in our bodies).
One of my pet peeves is the practice of throwing the uke away from us. I can’t speak for other people, but unless the attacker is propelling him/herself at you with remarkable force (which should result in them ending up away from you), I find that idea of throwing the person away from me to simply be stupid. Yes, it looks great for demonstration purposes, but that is about the extend of it. If you have managed to throw the attacker away from you, what is to stop that person from getting right back up and going at you again? This situation is a failure of efficiency and effectiveness. To me, I want the attacker to end up right near my feet where I can continue to control the attacker. If the person who has hit the ground is foolish enough to try and move aggressively when I am in such a dominant position then what happens next would not be pretty (albeit Darwin would probably be smiling).
Another pet peeve of mine is when people try and hide the inadequacies of their technique by trying to work fast so as to maximize force, torque and a host of other lower level factors that will doom a technique from working in more realistic settings. Try and practice the technique slowly and see what happens. You should still be able to do the technique smoothly, without unnecessary movement and force. Test yourself further by having a person hold onto one of your fingers and then do the technique, without breaking your finger.
I do believe that this class of techniques will take a long time to make truly effective. When that time comes, the uke will be talking about how there was little forewarning of the impending technique, a sudden sense of disequilibrium that is followed by contact with the ground.
We will be spending the month of July exploring Kokyu Nage by focusing in on the component pieces and putting them together. This will be a period of discovery for us in finding out when, where and how certain components work and don’t work. This should allow us to move forward in our development in this area of Aikido.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here