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Old 12-08-2003, 10:01 PM   #1
Robert Jackson
Dojo: seishinkan
Location: Texas City.
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 133
Confused Value of Atemi (when & how often)

Sensei Riggs believe in highly in atemi, which is quite obviously an important technique in aikido. We recently watching a nidan (I believe possibly sandan) test where the lady would atemi in then wait a few seconds before excuting the aikido move (in defence against a bokken). From what I saw she would have been better off not giving the atemi but just performing the move. I realize she was probably adding emphasis to atemi but it brought up a simple question, how valuable is the atemi? Again, I'm questioning when an atemi should be perform and not it's importance. Should you do it every chance you get without hindering your ultimate techinque or only when you expect there to be resistants and will probably need the distraction?
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Old 12-08-2003, 10:50 PM   #2
Dojo: Multnomah Aikikai
Location: Portland, Oregon
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 39
Good topic Robert,

I think the problem is that as aikido "evolved" there was a split. Somewhere along the way atemi was, for the most part, removed from the equation. Many aikidoist now think atemi is something additional/seperate from a technique, an "optional addition", or something along those lines.

I question my aikido training, the way it is taught and how I practice it. I think this is healthy. Wish to train to deffend myself against the attacker that is stronger, faster, has better balance and speed, those are the people I need to worry about. If atemi provides me with a defense and an ability to defend myself against the aforementioned foe than that is what I want and need to learn to feel confident.


  • Like a rotten log half burried in the ground.
  • My Life which has not flowered.
  • Comes to this sad end.
-Minamoto Yorimasa
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Old 12-08-2003, 11:17 PM   #3
Chris Raywood
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 24
Dear Robert:

I am fairly new to Aikido just joining an Aikikai dojo a few months ago, but do have quite a few years other Japanese arts, so I would like to think I speak with a little experience.

I believe atemi is required when it will aid in achieving the desired effect. That aid may be either supplementing the physical dynamic of the particular technique, or aiding a technique by shortening the time needed to complete it.

The example you gave of the woman seems to demonstrate the the atemi she employed actually detracted from the technique, since it added to time to the completion of the immobilization (or projection), and added no other value (such as affecting kuzushi).

Should you do atemi if it will not hinder a technique? Why do it if it is not necessary, and the technique will carry itself? Should you do it if you expect resistance, and need a distraction? By all means!

There my be some other considerations in aiding the technique. For example, it may not be needed to supplement a technique in itself, but it may be needed to supplement a situation such as facing multiple opponents. The atemi used in such a scenario may hopefully keep opponent #1 pre-occupied with himself while you take care of opponent #2.

I believe you are very much like me. I tend to want general rules or guidelines when it comes to certain aspects of martial arts. I like the idea of not having to put a lot of thought into what I'm doing, and just reacting to a certain attack (or other stimulus if you will). I believe atemi is one aspect of the art where such thinking is not always so easily accommodated.

Well that my 2 cents anyway.


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Old 12-09-2003, 08:05 AM   #4
Location: Alberta, Canada
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 113
When O-sensei said something like ‘Aikido is 70% atemi and 30% irimi', I believe he was addressing exactly that question. Almost all irimi movements require atemi to distract uke, as you are moving in a potentially dangerous body position without it (uke will simply react to your irimi movement instead of the atemi).

Many people mistakenly believe that that quote means that tenkan doesn't matter to Aikido (since we already have 100%), but I think it was just in answer to your exact question -- ‘when should one use atemi?'. Tenkan doesn't usually require atemi because you are already in a position away from harm.

Take kaiten-nage for instance. While the intial tenkan doesn't require atemi, as soon as you turn towards uke to duck under his arm it requires the atemi to the face in order to make that opening.

So tenkan movements (as many as I can remember this early in the morning) do not require atemi, and atemi would be superfluous.

Bruce Kimpel
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Old 12-09-2003, 08:41 AM   #5
Ted Marr
Location: Providence, RI
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 94
While I'm not hugely qualified to talk about application of technique in a "rea" situation, I think that the amount of atemi that one uses in practice is one of the critically important decisions a teacher has to make.

I have seen classes (not Aikido, but I hear that it happens there too), where atemi is considered utterly indispensable for technique. These people will not practice a lock or throw without getting in at least one good punch first. From what I've seen, however, this results in an emphasis on speed and power, rather than precision of technique, to accomplish things.

While my guess is that these people would fare possibly better in a street fight after 1 year of training than a 1 year aikidoka, they miss a lot of the art in locking and throwing.

On the other end of the scale, I've seen Aikidoka who obviously know nothing about striking. They punch entirely with their arms, never drawing any power from their hip motion, and throw the top half of their bodies into it which does nothing but artificially unbalance them.

Sure, they throw pretty well, but I think that if one of their atemis ever connected, they would probably break/dislocate/strain something. That, and it leads to unrealistic attacks. Which is not to say that they're not committed in their attacks, or "insincere". They basically throw themselves. Other martial artists see these people and wonder if Aikido is anything more than a pretty dance.

So, back to the topic... I think that practice of atemi is critical. At the very least, Aikido needs to teach some striking to develop better ukes, but it also helps students become "real world" applicable sooner. However, atemi should be kept separate from the throwing/locking techniques (except those where it is neccessary for causing imbalance) to keep those techniques pure. If both things are practiced until they are "natural", the incorporation of striking into throwing as atemi should occur pretty easily.

Not that I have any opinions on the subject *grin*
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Old 12-09-2003, 08:48 AM   #6
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 495
Hi Bruce.

Personally I hope to achieve such a high level of proficiency that atemi would not be necessary. That's somewhere down the road. For now though, when I practice I probably use it more mentally than physically. It helps to remind me to activate both sides of my body and keeps me centered. But I also think (physically) atemi has benefits for both nage and uke. It gives them both something to think about.

Bruce I can't say that in my experience that almost all irimi movements require atemi. I think that may be more of a stylistic option, although you can execute atemi at various points throughout a technique. If you study any technique I think it is safe to say that atemi is usually a backup for poor timing, spacing, or some other issue. It's always there as an option but like I said, I hope to attain such a high level of expertise that it would not be necessary.
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Old 12-09-2003, 08:49 AM   #7
Dojo: Independent
Location: Maracaibo/Zulia
Join Date: Nov 2000
Posts: 149
I agree somehow with Ted about the need for atemi on the different stages of aikido training..

On my limited experience i've noticed that those that fails to unbalance uke on their initial motions of evasion and centralization tend to really need atemi to create the necesary opening to put on a technique ( me )....

Hopefully years of training would develop a more finely tuned sense of timing and space (ie more sensibility) to know exactly where and when to move , making atemi somehow less relevant...

Hope i'm making some sense here..

Good luck on your training.

"Perfection is a Process"
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Old 12-09-2003, 08:54 AM   #8
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland Texas
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,652
The incident Robert describes is from a dan test. The person testing was obviously not comfortable with the atemi waza aspect and appears to have little instruction in applying atemi waza. She seemed to be mechanically applying strikes-almost like well I'm supposed to atemi her so she would stick her fist out.

This is not a good example of how to deliver atemi waza. I do place considerable importance on atemi as it is my believe that the training in the art aspect and street capabilities are defined by the suki (openings) for atemi waza and atemi is necessary in a combative situation to make the technique street effective in most cases.

Not only is the atemi necessary but it needs to be delivered to appropriate spots-ie. vital points (as the definition of atemi provided in doshu's new book). Striking someone on the arm has little effect if not in the right spot. However, a strike to the right acupuncture or nerve point will help position the attacker for delivery of a technique and also help the tori to control the aggression of the attack.

Most aikido training in atemi is weak at best. The example Robert cited (I saw the tape and was on the test committee) was primarily one where the tori had little formal training in delivering proper atemi (IMHO).
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Old 12-09-2003, 09:28 AM   #9
Dojo: Kiburn, London, UK
Location: London
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 899
United Kingdom
Sorry John, I don't think I'll ever agree with your perception of atemi. The idea that the atemis are only really useful with pin-point accuracy just re-inforces my view. Striking yes, should be used, but don't rely on it and only when it fit's it with the technique. The use of a blow to distract/guard when entering I'm happy with, but I've also seen it taken too often to extremes by people who frankly don't know how to punch and expect knuckle to skull to do something for them...
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Old 12-09-2003, 09:33 AM   #10
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland Texas
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,652
P.S. With proper training in atemi-waza and the use of pressure points the tori can learn to apply them in the flow of the technique without stopping the energy of the technique. This takes some practice. Generally, as students move up in the ranks I teach them more detailed application of atemi waza.

Black Belt magazine has informed me that my article on the topic is currently scheduled for the August issue-you never know with magazines (it's been almost a year since submitted). Hopefully, the article with stimulate additional conversation on this topic and will provide some additional thoughts. I tried. I plan to eventually put together something more formal and detailed-that takes a long time and hope to work on it more this year as other things have taken priority.
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Old 12-09-2003, 11:17 AM   #11
Michael Karmon
Dojo: Aikido Jerusalem
Location: Jerusalem Israel
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 56
Re: Value of Atemi (when & how often)

What is Atemi? Atemi is what ever you do to off-balance your opponent. That (IMHO) does not necessarily require punching. A very good Atemi is, a split second before the grab is preformed by Uke (like Katate-dory) fake a flinch, a hop or a small drop. Many times this will startle even a veteran enough to get his balance. The fake flinching is a 100% legitimate Atemi just as if you punched him on the nose.

The speed between the strike and the following technique should be appropriate. Example, when performing Koshi-Nage one may want to punch the face, the Uke will bend backwards and then compensate forwards before regaining balance. It is the forward bend that you want, so being too quick to enter the technique will not do.

We thrive to do everything right and full heartedly. Using Half-Assed punches is not good Aikido. When training with someone that is giving me a brush on my Gi rather then a good punch I (sometimes) stop and let them punch me in the gut or kick my legs until I feel Uke does it properly before we proceed with the actual technique.

Eat, Sleep, Exercise and watch out for cars
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Old 12-09-2003, 11:45 AM   #12
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland Texas
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 1,652
Good comments Michael. The application of distraction techniques does not always require a landed punch or strike-sometimes it can be a squeeze, pinch, brush, threat of atemi, or any other technique to cause kuzushi (balance break). As you point out, the balance break needs to be early. It often occurs on initial contact or application of atemi in the beginning of the technique.
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Old 12-09-2003, 11:53 AM   #13
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 28
As an Aikido beginner, this is how I have come to view the use of Atemi in my dojo:

Beginners are not being taught atemi in general because they are learning to focus on their technique. The basics of balance, footwork and good ukemi are maybe viewed as the important first step.

If Atemi were simply another motion integral to the technique then I'm sure this would not be the case. Instead the use of Atemi seems to be a more thoughtful matter that involves how it affects Uke during the technique that's being performed.

I occasionally [rarely] have achieved a clear state of mind while performing a technique which allowed me to be aware of the activity around me. This is something that more skilled people take for granted and is an important part of making sure that you do not throw your Uke into another person or a wall. I believe that when my skill has advanced to a point that this awareness is common, I will be more prepared to evaluate the properly timed use of Atemi during the execution of a technique.

In preparation we are being taught to be aware of what both hands are doing throughout the technique. There are many times that one hand is simply "out there" in a blocking position. These are possible opportunities for Atemi if the result would be to refocus my Uke's attention aware from the direction that I am moving.

When should it be used? It appears to me that there are points at which you would like to distract your uke from the fact that you are performing a ballet around one of his arms. A quick strike to the face while moving into my Uke would certainly give him something to think about other than the fact that his arm has just been moved 2 feet from his body. There also appear to be moments when the next step I take may open my body up to a strike from a thoughtful Uke. Perhaps the proper Atemi would keep him from noticing the unprotected part of my body and allow him to direct an attack there.

How much power should be directed into an Atemi? I don't know, I'm just a beginner, but I do know that if someone slaps me in the face my mind will suddenly be focused on that point. It seems to me that the power of the strike only needs to be strong enough to get Uke's attention. I don't need to practice for hours on a heavy bag because I'm not attempting to devastate Uke with the power of my attack, it's not a karate punch where the strike IS the technique. All I want to do is say, "Look at the hand! Look at the hand!" while I twist him into a pretzel.

The proper timing and type of Atemi should be chosen based upon the affect that it has on Uke. A magician would not distract your eye TOWARDS his other hand which is slipping a ball under the cup. As such Atemi is a slight of hand that says to Uke, "hey, the fun is over here...in your face," while really I am preparing him to bow deep and kiss the floor. It also has the power to trick Uke into commiting his energy in a direction that is advantageous to my impending purpose.

This is my perspective as a beginner. It is all together likely that I will change my view as I grow more skilled but I believe that my current view point will always have value to me as an objective first perspective on this technique.
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Old 12-09-2003, 12:25 PM   #14
ian's Avatar
Dojo: University of Ulster, Coleriane
Location: Northern Ireland
Join Date: Oct 2000
Posts: 1,654
Although we can think 'I could get an atemi in there' I think unless we train in atemi in an integrated way it is lost from technique.

In traditional aiki-jitsu the techniques are done with more atemi, then most of these are removed to increase blending and speed. Unfortunately in aikido we have lost the benefit of this training method in an attempt to rush into no atemi aikido. The benefit of this is that, if our blending is poor, we resort to what we first learnt - atemi.

I think it is also important to integrate atemi into the techniques e.g. tenchi-nage should be a strike to the face/neck if uke continues to move in. Also, if a technique stalls, it is useful to realise how the initial part of the technique has opened up the opponent for strikes.


---understanding aikido is understanding the training method---
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Old 12-09-2003, 01:02 PM   #15
akiy's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 6,011
Here's a good article on atemi by George Ledyard:


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Old 12-10-2003, 09:51 AM   #16
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
Location: Phila. Pa
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 4,614
So tenkan movements (as many as I can remember this early in the morning) do not require atemi, and atemi would be superfluous.
I'm not so sure about this...some techniques from the yoshinkan syllibus that are # 2 and do have atemi:

suigetsutsuki taihenko sokomen iriminage

body thrust, body change, side step-in throw

Aihamne, uke strikes to solar plexus, shite pivots and blocks using gaiwan block, trapping the arm with non-blocking hand, after pivoting strikes with elbow atemi to chest or face, shuffle step in body change for throw.

yokomenuchi shihonage osae ni

side strike, all direction throw, pin #2

gyuakuhamne, uke side strikes to shite's temple, shite shuffles to enter and block with same side hand while delivering atemi to the spot between uke's upper lip and nose, then cuts down on uke's striking hand and pivots and body changes for shihonage pin.

Note that in both of these techniques it is appropriate to enter before pivoting. I'm given to understand that most times people do enter before pivoting...and it is during this phase that atemi is often used. I get this not just from the yoshinkan, but from other styles (aikikai systems) as well.

I also think that atemi may sometimes be used to cover weak technique. That is one reason I like cross-training in styles that focus on obtaining kuzushi without the use of atemi. It would seem being able to use the atemi would be a part of good basics, and that as someone advances, they might need it less and less to unbalance someone.


Ron Tisdale
"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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