A little while ago Chris Li posted a link to this YT clip on his Aikido Sangenkai FB page about a DVD on the Makkou Hou, or more commonly because dropping long vowels in romanisation is a thing these days, Makko Ho. (There's enough confusion between shikkou and shiko, but confusing shikkou on the mat with shikko on the mat would be even more embarrassing, but I digress.)
A bit of reading later I find that these are the leg stretches commonly incorporated into Aikido warm ups I've seen in multiple styles. I also learnt that 9 out of 10 internet searches for ‘Makko Ho' lead to a modified set of 6 stretches (instead of 4) also called meridian stretches, linked to Chinese medicine ideas. It appears the original version had the less lofty aims of just regaining the flexibility of a child.
I know this won't be new for many. I was aware O'Sensei had met a number of people who created "health systems" of the era and incorporated bits he liked, one of the commonly referenced ones being the Nishi Shiki. It was an era where numerous health systems were created and made popular. But I hadn't heard that these leg stretches were one of those systems.
Funny thing, I mentioned to a fellow student at the dojo a while ago that I've just never been flexible in the hips and was noticing that despite training for quite a number of years, it impacted some of my Aikido. They turned around and said "You know you could do something about that". My reply was something along the lines of yeah, but then I'd have to stretch every day and I don't have time.
So last year I decided to do something about it. Read more info about stretching to add to what I'd seen over the years. Took some real interest in Stretching Scientifically by Thomas Kurz and other great info that of course I didn't really make use of. Was focusing on side splits stretching (I'd be lucky at that time to get my legs out to a combined angle of 80 degrees) because that's the way I'm least flexible. In my enthusiasm I pulled a tendon on the inside of my right knee. I could still train but it was a bit painful and I had to be careful with it. Took about 4 months to heal.
I was going to say 2 months or so ago, but looking back Chris' post was only just over a month ago. So after seeing that post I decided I hadn't got very far with my wish to increase my leg flexibility and maybe the simple leg stretches I was already familiar with from Aikido would at least be something. And hey, if they were actually an official health system, they had to be good
. I've been doing them most days since.
Our dojo and pretty much every other that I've visited as well as seminars I've been to only do the first three stretches of the Makkou Hou (‘butterfly' with feet together, hamstring stretch leaning forward with legs together and leaning forward with legs apart). The fourth, leaning backwards in seiza, was always considered bad for the knees or too difficult. But in a seminar a few years ago with Masao Ishii Sensei (RIP) all four were included which I thought was interesting at the time. (In fact the whole seminar was unlike any other I'd been to and I really got a lot out of it.)
On a personal note, although I'm pretty comfortable in seiza, I've only ever been able to lean back about 45 degrees if I was lucky with that fourth stretch. The idea of laying back on the floor instantly brought forward the image of my knees and possibly hips and ankles ripping apart like chicken wings. I could support myself with my hands behind me on the floor, but not get low enough to rest on my elbows. Within 2 weeks or so of daily Makkou Hou I could get down on my elbows. Fast forward to now and after being already warm from an online training session our dojo ran yesterday, I did the set after the class and was utterly surprised to find I could lay back with my shoulder blades touching the floor. Now my knees were elevated, back was arched too much and my butt just still won't sit on the floor between my feet. I've got to now go back to elbows and let it develop further. But even with that bad form this is something I never thought I'd be able to do. I haven't pushed it in the last month but also don't have any existing injuries that might be a problem for some people and this particular stretch. I just did the set most days. Side split flexibility has improved a little bit too, but I'll have to be patient as that's going slower.
As a last comment, only in the era when western countries were lapping up eastern arts could you take your system that pieces together a few basic stretches, with a fancy name like the method toward truth (or how ever else you want to interpret 真向法) and travel from Japan to do a tour in America to teach it to other people. But it's working for me so far.