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Old 02-27-2012, 09:38 PM   #1
JimClark
Dojo: Five Rings Aikido
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Fingers spread or together?

I've been thinking about this for a long time, but I have not found it discussed anywhere online. In some styles and/or dojos Aikidoka (uke and Nage) practice with fingers spread wide apart. I once heard this explained as holding your hands "kokyu". To me this is a disaster waiting to happen. There is a high probability in a fight of getting a lone finger caught in clothing or something and getting it broken. The fighting arts I have had exposure to emphasize keeping fingers together as much as possible for this very reason. In addition, when I rock climb, I have much more finger strength with my fingers together where they can support each other than when they are spread, which would seem to support the fingers together mode in an art with so much grabbing.

So my question is this, why do so many Aikidoka specifically emphasize spread fingers?

Best,

Jim
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Old 02-27-2012, 10:17 PM   #2
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

I don't have an answer but I am eagerly awaiting people's responses. My last sensei definitely emphasised keeping fingers together for exactly the reasons you just expressed. I've seen it the other way too though, and I'm interested in this debate.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:00 AM   #3
kewms
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

My teachers tell us to keep the fingers energized, not collapsed. I think that's the rationale behind the "fingers spread" instruction. But I would view rigid hands -- whether with fingers spread or together -- as a flaw. The hands -- like everything else -- should be free to move.

In my experience, finger injuries are not all that common.

Katherine
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:01 AM   #4
LinTal
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

In Tokyo I've have the privilege of attending several tea ceremonies, a very long process emphasising polishing the inner spirit through outer precision and practice. The practitioners I've spoken to regard it as in the same category as aikido - a budo, more so the more advanced their skills seem to become. In the ceremony their fingers are always together, for the following reasons, as I understand it:

* The smooth straight line created emphasises the earnest direction of intention,

* The straight arm is in direct connection with the hand through a shared line. This is a philosophical ideal to aim for, as well as an aesthetic one because of the elegant simplicity. Picture the parallel lines of the interlocking tatami, and the harmony of peaceful elegance of the sparse Japanes-style room.

* It is, of course, easier to maintain strength and stamina with the support given by the rest of the hand. There is a formal process for stoking a firebox; most of the utensils and containers are made of cast iron, and the straight wrist and straight fingers are important to be able to do this. Further strength is also utilised by the directed extension, which uses additional muscles interior to the arm and can absorb more force than otherwise.

* Broken fingers hurt.

The world changes when you do.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:43 AM   #5
graham christian
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

I've often seen it related, falsely in my opinion, to extending Ki. That's the most common reason I've seen in the past. It does look funny to me.

When I talk extending Ki in this way I emphasize through tegatana so the hands are actually tilted back slightly. (as in ikkyo exercise)

Mostly really to me it should be whatever the mechanics and natural flow of energy makes happen depending on what the hand is doing.

For example, if you use your palm, the base of your palm to strike then you will find the natural position of the fingers is to spread.

Regards.G.
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Old 02-28-2012, 03:30 AM   #6
JJF
 
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

If it sticks out it will get cut off...

I believe we should be keeping our fingers together unless something else i specifically required (to get a hold - to grap around something rounding or whatever)

I sometimes points my indexfinger out to show which direction the movement should have - especially in tenshinage. Now I am trying to teach my students NOT to point with their fingers when doing that technique ... sigh..

- Jørgen Jakob Friis

Inspiration - Aspiration - Perspiration
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Old 02-28-2012, 03:50 AM   #7
nickregnier1
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

If good kokyu is applied the feeling of spreading the fingers comes out naturally but by keeping fingers together changes that feeling in my opinion. When training we emphasize the kokyu feeling to make sure that you feel it all the way from the centre to your fingers. In a fighting situation, I would clench my fists firmly and use Kokyu in a different way i.e. finishing the technique quicker by applying strike. So the open hand don't get 'in the way' but again it is hard to explain as they are so many various techniques with their variations to each one of them! But ultimately, I would keep the fingers spread for all kokyu exercise feelings...
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Old 02-28-2012, 04:46 AM   #8
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Jørgen Jakob Friis wrote: View Post
If it sticks out it will get cut off...

I believe we should be keeping our fingers together unless something else i specifically required (to get a hold - to grap around something rounding or whatever)

I sometimes points my indexfinger out to show which direction the movement should have - especially in tenshinage. Now I am trying to teach my students NOT to point with their fingers when doing that technique ... sigh..
Nishio style?
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Old 02-28-2012, 04:55 AM   #9
Alic
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

I don't know how it is in other styles, but in Yoshinkan we're told to tense the fingers while spreading it out, perfectly flat. You should be able to feel some kind of energy leaving the fingers as it travels outwards. They should be perfectly tense so that the forearm's muscles and tendons are in tension, giving the arm structure for the strikes.

I think I read somewhere that O-sensei wrote about this too, and I think he wrote that the fingers should be spread wide apart and filled with ki. Maybe somebody has information on this?
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Old 02-28-2012, 06:41 AM   #10
Alex Megann
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Gozo Shioda says in one of his textbooks that the hand should be open with the fingers apart "like a Morning Glory flower". This is (perhaps not surprisingly) what Kanetsuka Sensei teaches too. All the Aikikai shihan I have seen keep the fingers open.

I don't think I have seen anyone demonstrating with the fingers together. Are there any examples on YouTube of this?

Alex
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Old 02-28-2012, 07:55 AM   #11
chillzATL
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

spreading the fingers is a basic way, along with extending the arms, to help connect the hands/wrists and arms in much the same way as you would when you tightly ball up your fist, but without that tension. It shouldn't be this stretched to the max feeling, but simply full and open, the same way your entire body should be. As others mentioned you see Shioda do this almost constantly and if you go back and look at the Asahi footage, Ueshiba was doing it back then as well.

As for getting fingers caught in stuff during fights, I don't recall seeing MMA fighters or judoka trying to monkey paw each other...

Beyond the above, put your hands out in front of you like you're catching a basketball that's been thrown at your face. Now pull your fingers in together and tell me that feels natural... you have to make your fingers stay that way. They naturally want to open up and relax.

Last edited by chillzATL : 02-28-2012 at 07:59 AM.
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Old 02-28-2012, 08:16 AM   #12
lbb
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

I think there's a fairly simple mechanical explanation: aikido techniques use the extensor muscles of the body more than the contractor muscles, and it's hard to use one extensor muscle when the opposing contractor muscle is active.

I also don't find that it takes any great time or thought to change from spread fingers to a fist if I need to, but I trained in a striking art, so...
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:10 AM   #13
sakumeikan
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Alex Megann wrote: View Post
Gozo Shioda says in one of his textbooks that the hand should be open with the fingers apart "like a Morning Glory flower". This is (perhaps not surprisingly) what Kanetsuka Sensei teaches too. All the Aikikai shihan I have seen keep the fingers open.

I don't think I have seen anyone demonstrating with the fingers together. Are there any examples on YouTube of this?

Alex
Dear Alex,
The concept of the fingers being spread in relation to the Morning Glory flower has also been quoted by Chiba Sensei. Chiba Sensei indicates that in the evening the flower closes down its foliage and when the sun/light returns the flower opens up its petals.The fingers as you know are not tense.On a personal note I train my own fingers to open [and my Kokyu flowswell] when I hold a pint of fine quality beer.No need for me to go into any metaphysical /supernatural explanations when I am in form at the local tavern.Might be in your neck of the woods this year -my grandson is training as a Marine Cadet [Merchant Navy ] in your area. Cheers, Joe
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:18 AM   #14
Alex Megann
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Joe Curran wrote: View Post
Dear Alex,
The concept of the fingers being spread in relation to the Morning Glory flower has also been quoted by Chiba Sensei. Chiba Sensei indicates that in the evening the flower closes down its foliage and when the sun/light returns the flower opens up its petals.The fingers as you know are not tense.On a personal note I train my own fingers to open [and my Kokyu flowswell] when I hold a pint of fine quality beer.No need for me to go into any metaphysical /supernatural explanations when I am in form at the local tavern.Might be in your neck of the woods this year -my grandson is training as a Marine Cadet [Merchant Navy ] in your area. Cheers, Joe
Hi Joe,

I guess that if both Shioda and Chiba used that phrase the only conclusion must be that it came from O-Sensei!

I find if I let my fingers open when drinking a pint I just tend to waste beer...

Alex
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Old 02-28-2012, 09:23 AM   #15
Chris Li
 
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Alex Megann wrote: View Post
Gozo Shioda says in one of his textbooks that the hand should be open with the fingers apart "like a Morning Glory flower". This is (perhaps not surprisingly) what Kanetsuka Sensei teaches too. All the Aikikai shihan I have seen keep the fingers open.

I don't think I have seen anyone demonstrating with the fingers together. Are there any examples on YouTube of this?

Alex
「手を常に朝顔のように開け」
"Always open your hand like a morning glory ("asagao")"

-Sokaku Takeda

And here's one by Yukiyoshi Sagawa that I think has not generally been made available in English:

8/28/1971
I was told by Takeda Sensei to open my hand in the way that a Morning Glory ("Asagao") blooms, but I think that this means to open the hand while rotating slightly. I conceived of my Aiki while thinking about this kind of thing.


Best,

Chris

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Old 02-28-2012, 09:27 AM   #16
Chris Li
 
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Alex Megann wrote: View Post
Hi Joe,

I guess that if both Shioda and Chiba used that phrase the only conclusion must be that it came from O-Sensei!

I find if I let my fingers open when drinking a pint I just tend to waste beer...

Alex
Just posted above - this is standard in Daito-ryu, and was one of Takeda's common statements.

O-Sensei said it as well, I can't remember the exact quotes off-hand.

If you look at Kisshomaru, his fingers were almost always open in this way.

As you get further away, you notice that a lot of folks have let this practice slide.

Best,

Chris

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Old 02-28-2012, 10:20 AM   #17
gregstec
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

In the Ki society, we were taught that the fingers pointed the direction of your Ki with the index finger being the predominate one - look at pictures of early shihan and you will see most always have their index fingers extended.

As Chris already stated, the concept of asagao came from DR. Interesting point is that with asagao, the fingers still point the direction of your intent/ki, but since you have more than one finger extended, you can have your intent/ki focused in more than one direction at a time - just my opinion, of course, and YMMV.

Greg
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:51 AM   #18
Keith Larman
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Funny. When I first started I noticed how some seniors seemed to do that naturally. Then things like how to bend the wrists when doing funakogi undo being so you "don't cut off the ki". At first you do these things to mimic the "look". But over the years I've started to feel that those things now happen because when I connect up correctly, well, it's just what happens. Not to a level of caricature, but I do feel a "pull" in the fingers. Interesting...

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Old 02-28-2012, 12:00 PM   #19
JimClark
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

The only aikidoka I can remember that focused on keeping the fingers together was Kieth Moore Sensei of AAA in Chicago. He came out and taught a seminar for our school a long time ago (13years?) and he made a big point of it. It makes a lot of sense to me as well, from a practical standpoint. Years ago we had a student in the dojo that habitually spread his fingers wide as nage in randori. He poked quite a few eyes (not necessarily a bad thing in a fight, if intentional), but also got his fingers caught in gi's quiet frequently, resulting in pain/injury. This experience, along with my Wing Chun training is enough for me to land on the "fingers together" side of this question.

So far, I have only seen replies that deal with how spreading the fingers makes nage feel/extend energy during technique. This is fine for dojo practice where conditions are controlled and uke is cooperating (at least on some level) with your practice. But let uke do whatever they want, and your results may vary. In terms of spreading your fingers for practice and then closing them for self defense, I would suggest that you would fight how you train.... There is much evidence that this is true. I try to make sure my teaching includes realistic training methods that can be used for self defense, not just in the dojo. So I will put myself firmly in the "fingers together" camp.

I also like what Selin Talay had to say about the Tea ceremony. These words mirror almost exactly the teachings of the Wing Chun style that I study. Mechanically, they make a lot of sense.

So I guess to fine tune the question, does nage's feeling they get from spreading fingers negate/outweigh the danger of breaking them? You may have to speed up your training to find out.

I have to say, that I am having to do some retraining of myself since it wasn't drummed into me too hard to keep them together all the time. I'm not 100% compliant with my own method yet (as my Sifu frequently reminds me). But I wanted to see what the community had to say on the issue as I continue to work on it myself.

Best,

Jim

Last edited by JimClark : 02-28-2012 at 12:03 PM.

Learn to see everything accurately. Do not do anything useless. -Miyamoto Musashi, The Earth Scroll, The Book of Five Rings.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:27 PM   #20
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Jim Clark wrote: View Post
So I guess to fine tune the question, does nage's feeling they get from spreading fingers negate/outweigh the danger of breaking them? You may have to speed up your training to find out.
aikido perspective: I'm inclined to listen to Ueshiba, Takeda, Sagawa and Shioda over some random instructor.

fighting perspective: I"m not sure it's the right thing to be asking aikidoka about fighting, but I think the concerns are overblown. As I said, I don't recall seeing MMA fighters or judoka going out of their way to protect their fingers and I don't recall a fight being stopped because a guy broke a finger and couldn't continue. It's just a finger, rub some dirt on it.
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Old 02-28-2012, 01:41 PM   #21
Chris Li
 
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Jim Clark wrote: View Post
So I guess to fine tune the question, does nage's feeling they get from spreading fingers negate/outweigh the danger of breaking them? You may have to speed up your training to find out.
Hmm, does the feeling that you get from wearing a hakama and training barefoot outweigh the danger of tripping on it in a fight or stubbing your toe on asphalt?

There are just so many training things that don't translate well to a fighting situation that this doesn't rise that high on my list of things to worry about.

I'm not sure about actively trying to push the fingers out, but I think that if you do things a certain way the fingers will tend to end up in that position, and that you can then work on getting the same thing to happen without that obvious outward expression. OTOH, I think that it will be harder to do certain things without working through that obvious outward expression.

Best,

Chris

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Old 02-28-2012, 02:36 PM   #22
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Thanks for the perspectives, guys.

I originally learned to have my fingers open, but when I took up Nishio aikido I was taught to keep my fingers together for all the reasons expressed above. I still like the feel of having open fingers better, but I totally get the rationale behind closed fingers. I think I need to experiment a bit more before I reach a firm conclusion.
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Old 02-28-2012, 04:21 PM   #23
kewms
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

There are really three choices here, not two:
* Fingers held close together
* Fingers deliberately spread wide
* Fingers loose, allowed to be the way the energy of the technique naturally wants to flow

I fall firmly into the third camp.

Katherine
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Old 02-28-2012, 05:49 PM   #24
JimClark
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Jason Casteel wrote: View Post
aikido perspective: I'm inclined to listen to Ueshiba, Takeda, Sagawa and Shioda over some random instructor.

fighting perspective: I"m not sure it's the right thing to be asking aikidoka about fighting, but I think the concerns are overblown. As I said, I don't recall seeing MMA fighters or judoka going out of their way to protect their fingers and I don't recall a fight being stopped because a guy broke a finger and couldn't continue. It's just a finger, rub some dirt on it.
You can listen to whoever you want, I'm not telling anyone what to do, just sharing thoughts and engaging in discussion. I'm also not inclined to listen to random posters that can't maintain civil discourse. But I can respond politely anyway.

You do in fact see MMA fighters break fingers fairly often. This is even with some support from their gloves and tape jobs. And it does affect their overall performance. They don't generally quit because of it (unless the doctor makes them), but it does affect them. I like the "rub some dirt on it" direction, I use that myself. However, if you can avoid it through training methods, why not.

As far as asking aikidoka about fighting goes, that depends on the focus of your training. If you do Aikido for health or other reasons, don't worry about it. But if you have any expectation at all that what you are learning could be useful in a self defense situation, then you should think about these things. Again this is an individual choice, choose however you want.

Learn to see everything accurately. Do not do anything useless. -Miyamoto Musashi, The Earth Scroll, The Book of Five Rings.
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Old 02-28-2012, 06:01 PM   #25
CitoMaramba
 
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Re: Fingers spread or together?

Quote:
Robin Boyd wrote: View Post
Nishio style?
In this video Nishio Sensei explains his method of using tegatana and empty hand striking. He relates it to the sword. As seen in the video, Nishio Sensei keeps the fingers together.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwylQqUsyRs

Inocencio Maramba, MD, MSc
Dangayan Singkaw Aikido Shinzui
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