Of Oak Leaves, Blind Hogs, and an Acorn
...the Origin of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage
While one may argue which technique -- Ikkyo, Shiho Nage, Kaiten Nage, or another -- is the foundation of Aikido, exemplifying its spirit and technical principles, there is no disputing the uniqueness of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage.
O'Sensei's Koshi Nage
An examination of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage reveals a number of prominent, unique characteristics.
- O'Sensei aligns his feet on a line forming a right angle with the line connecting the feet of uke.
- O'Sensei draws uke across his hips, extending uke, rather than wrapping him in and around, bringing his hips into contact with uke's abdomen, and forming the signature cross (juji) with their bodies.
- O'Sensei positions his hips below uke's center of mass by slightly widening his stance, rather than maintaining his feet approximately a shoulder's width apart and bending his knees. It is important to remember O'Sensei was relatively short in stature, compared to his peers, and his approach would not require an extreme widening of his stance.
- O'Sensei maintains the extension, rotates his body, using his hips as a fulcrum, with his arms extended at nearly right angles to his torso to transfer the rotation, throwing uke with a seesawing motion.
Morihiro Saito Sensei reinforces these points when quoting the following instruction from O'Sensei regarding Koshi Nage, "Step forward and position your right foot between your partner's feet. Extend your left arm diagonally upward with feeling of pointing at the top corner of the wall and bring your partner's stomach onto the small of your back in such a way that your two bodies form a cross." 
The overall effect of O'Sensei's technique is a hip throw exploiting the action of uke and gravity, resulting in little or no energy expenditure by nage. Saito Sensei confirms the minimal expenditure of energy by nage in the following comment, "The founder once said jokingly that there were no better techniques than Koshi Nage and that he never got tired even if he practiced them from morning to night." 
Among the images used to identify the characteristics of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage were photographs of O'Sensei performing Koshi Nage found in the series of photographs known as the "Noma Dojo Techniques." 
Is O'Sensei's Koshi Nage his creation or did O'Sensei assimilate the Koshi Nage from one of the predecessor arts he studied?
The Mighty Oaks
If O'Sensei's Koshi Nage is derived from one of the arts he studied, then the Koshi Nage would have to be found in one or more of the following jujutsu schools: Daito-ryu, Kodokan Judo, Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu, or Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu. 
The Oak Leaves
For purpose of analysis, the hip throws of Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu and Kodokan Judo can be classified as full hip or half-hip throws based upon the degree of hip insertion by nage. 
In both full hip and half-hip throws, nage pulls uke to him and onto his hips, while turning and aligning his feet within, and if possible parallel, to those of uke. Nage initiates the throw by lifting uke with his legs. For full hip throws, nage rotates uke vertically over the hip using the coordinated pulling and pushing action of his arms. In the half-hip throws, nage rides uke on and around his hip, horizontal rotation, using the pull of his arms coordinated with a flicking action of his hips.
Examples of full hip throws are the O-goshi and the Tsurikomi-goshi of Kodokan Judo, while Uki-goshi of Kodokan Judo is representative of the half-hip throws. (As an aside, Uki-goshi was the favorite technique of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo.) 
Both the full hip and the half-hip throws of Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu and Kodokan Judo differ significantly from O'Sensei's Koshi Nage with respect to kuzushi, tsukuri, and kake. O'Sensei creates and maintains kuzushi by extending his arms, thereby extending uke's body, as opposed to the hip throws of Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu and Kodokan Judo, wherein nage draws uke to him, wrapping uke tightly to his body with the pulling action of his arms. In O'Sensei's Koshi Nage, his feet and uke's feet form a "T", while in Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu and Kodokan Judo, nage's feet are inside of and parallel to those of uke. Lastly, in O'Sensei's Koshi Nage his hips function as a fulcrum -- much like the pivot point of a seesaw - over which uke rotates. While in the hip throws of Tenshin Shin'yo-ryu and Kodokan Judo, uke is bound to nage's hips, which function as an axle around which uke turns like a wheel.
There is one hip throw, the Koshi-guruma of Kodokan Judo, which in its original form is very close to the Koshi Nage of O'Sensei. The original version of Koshi-guruma, which was also referred to as Jujigoshi, had essentially the same body positioning as O'Sensei's Koshi Nage, as the feet of nage are on a line forming a right angle with the line connecting the feet of uke, with uke and nage's bodies forming a cross. However, this form of Koshiguruma wraps uke around nage's body and uses the legs to lift and throw uke, which is substantially different from the throwing action of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage. 
The modern form of the Koshi-guruma found in Kodokan Judo conforms to the positioning of the full hip throws and is very similar to O-goshi, with the exception that in Koshi-guruma the arm wraps around uke's neck, rather than uke's back as in O-goshi. 
Within the technical corpus of Daito-ryu, two hip throws appear within the Hiden Mokuroku. Koshi-guruma is the term applied to both techniques. However, the two throws have very different mechanisms for affecting the techniques.
The first Koshi-guruma appears in the Ikkajo and is a counter to jujijime (cross choke).9 Other than nage's method of entry, which involves a cross step and pivot, rather than the double, forward turning steps of Uki-goshi, the execution of the throw is very similar to the Uki-goshi of Kodokan Judo.
The second Koshi-guruma appears in the Nikajo and is a response to a yokomen attack10. Nage enters and turns, as uke strikes yokomen with his right hand. Nage traps uke's right arm with his left arm and uke's left leg, with his right arm, loading and binding uke across his hips. Nage straightens his legs lifting uke and turning, before dropping uke to nage's direct, rear. This version of Koshi-guruma lacks the extension of uke as in O'Sensei's Koshi Nage and requires lifting to affect the technique. Additionally, nage enters with a double, turning step, continuing the turning of his body with uke extended across the hips. 
Appearing in a video of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu is a technique that appears to conform to all elements of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage. The kata in which the Koshi Nage appears is the fifth and last kata - identified as Kinukatsugi - of a set of five kata, addressing clothing grabs, referred to as "Omote."
Viewing video of Kinukatsugi performed by late Sōke, Mutoh Masao, of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu, the following is a description of the apparent. To begin the kata, uke initiates a grasp of nage's jacket near the shoulder area with his left hand and continues the attack, striking yokomen with his right hand, very much in the manner of a katamenuchi attack in Aikido. Nage deflects the yokomen strike downward and in, grasping the striking arm while at the same time grasping the left lapel of uke's jacket with his right hand over uke's outstretched left arm. Nage then forces uke back several paces. When uke pushes back and begins to step forward, nage slips his head and shoulders under uke's left arm and throws uke, rotating uke over his hips. Nage's appears to enter at right angles to uke, and nage's right arm is drawing uke's upper torso up, out and over his hips, causing the lower abdomen of uke to contact nage's hips, forming a cross.  It appears, unlike all of the previously discussed Koshi Nage, that nage extends uke across his back by the action of his right arm, while pressing and lifting the left leg of uke with his left arm, creating an apparent seesawing action to affect the throw. The apparent actions by nage track remarkably with the Koshi Nage of O'Sensei, particularly the Koshi Nage employing a Shihonage grip.
David Kawazu-Barber, a representative of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu, identified the kata and provided the following bunkai of Kinukatsugi, the 5th yawara kata in a set of 5 fundamental forms known as "Omote." In brief, the attacker grabs the defender's clothing at the neck and delivers an overhead strike with the right hand. The defender blocks the attack with his left arm, taking hold of the attacker's left wrist and pivoting it downward, whilst applying a painful grip. The defender's right hand then extends over the attacker's left arm and grabs his clothing at the neck, driving a raised knuckle into the attacker's throat. The defender sinks his body weight, collapsing the attacker's outstretched arm, and takes three steps forward, pushing the attacker backward. The defender then rotates under his right arm and draws his elbow to his chest, ensuring the attacker is snug on the hip, fastened by the chokehold. He then throws the attacker over his hip using his right hand to pull and his left hand to sweep the attacker's left leg. 
The clarification provided by David Kawazu-Barber is critically important in properly understanding the action of nage, the defender, and differentiating the apparent from the actual.
David Kawazu-Barber was also kind enough to provide the following information regarding Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu lineage. The 6th Sōke of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu was Goto Yagyusai (hence the coined name, Goto-ha). While Goto appointed Ohshima Masateru the role of 7th Sōke prior to his death, other shihan continued to disseminate the tradition as well. Tsuboi Masanosuke passed on the style to Nakai Masakatsu. Ueshiba attended Nakai's dojo in Kai-machi, Sakai City (near Osaka). Both the names of Nakai Masakatsu (the dojo master) and Masanosuke Tsuboi (senior instructor) appear on Ueshiba's shodan menjyo. 
Some may challenge the length and depth of O'Sensei's training in Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu and the validity of O'Sensei's certificate. The Ueshiba family possesses a rank certificate issued to O'Sensei by Yagyu Shingan-ryu, which lacks a seal, raising a question regarding its validity. The Ueshiba certificate does bear the names, which one would expect on a valid Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu certificate, and there is independent testimony and documentation that O'Sensei studied the art during the five-years that he was in the Japanese military.
While the actual amount of O'Sensei's instruction and training in Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu is uncertain, presuming O'Sensei attended training at least once each month, it is reasonable to believe he was sufficiently exposed to the techniques of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu to have assimilated the first set of five kata, which includes Kinukatsugi.
While I believe, Kinukatsugi is the form from which O'Sensei acquired his Koshi Nage; I think the connection is of greater importance for several reasons.
First, it establishes a tangible, technical link between O'Sensei's art, Aikido, and Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu.
Second, it demonstrates O'Sensei in formulating the technical corpus of Aikido did not simply pare down the number and simplify Daito-ryu techniques, as many have asserted. Rather, he systematically adopted and adapted techniques, albeit mostly from Daito-ryu, which he believed to have the potential to transmit the essential principles of his art.
Third, while there is no disputing the influence of Daito-ryu on Aikido, the linkage of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage to Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu establishes the significant influence of another predecessor art on O'Sensei and Aikido.
Another important aspect of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage, pointed out by Ellis Amdur in our discussions, is the relationship of Koshi Nage and Kokyu Nage14 and the ability of nearly all variations of O'Sensei's Koshi Nage to transform into a Kokyu Nage.
I, like Ellis Amdur, believe O'Sensei did not include Koshi Nage in Aikido merely to provide an "exercise in connection" as some sensei explain. O'Sensei's Koshi Nage does have a credible, combative application, as revealed in the bunkai of Kinukatsugi provided by David Kawazu-Barber, and the technique provides an effective, fundamental tool for developing blending skills and the ability to transfer power from nage to uke. Lastly, I also believe the current trend of a decreasing ability of many aikidoka to generate and project power in Kokyu Nage is attributable to a lack of diligent Koshi Nage training.
A final thought, there is a saying in the Mississippi Delta: "Even a blind
hog will occasionally find an acorn, if he roots in the oak leaves long enough!" Although I would like to represent I identified Kinukatsugi of Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu through blazing discernment and assiduous research, the truth is I, much like the blind
hog, found an acorn while viewing video for another research project.
1. Morihiro Saito, Takemusu Aikido, Volume 3
. Tokyo: Aiki News, 1996. 33
2. Stanley Pranin, "Interview with Morihiro Saito." Aiki News
, #88, Summer 1991
3. Images of O'Sensei performing Koshi Nage from the "Noma Dojo Techniques" are included in the following two publications: BUDO Teachings of the Founder of Aikido
, 126, and The Essence of Aikido
4. "Interview with Morihei Ueshiba and Kisshomaru Ueshiba." Aiki News #18, August 1976. Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu is the proper name for the art referred to in the interview as Goto ha Yagyu Shingan-ryu. Aioi-ryu was not included in the group of predecessor arts due to a lack of information.
5. Geof Gleason, Anatomy of Judo
. London: Kaye & Ward Limited, 1969. 98-99
6. Illustrations of the referenced Judo Nage Waza are available at www.judoinfo.com
7. Toshiro Daigo, Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques
. : Kodansha International,
8. Toshiro Daigo, Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques
. : Kodansha International,
9. Katsuyuki Kondo, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo
. Tokyo: Aiki News, 2000. 65-69
10. Daito-ryu Aiki Ju-Jutsu Hiden Mokuroku 118 Jo, Volume 1
(Tokyo: BAB Japan Company, Limited); 2. Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo and 3. Hiden Mokuroku Nikajo
11. Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu BAB Video Series, Video #66
, (Tokyo: BAB Japan Company, Limited). A video of the Omote Forms, including Kinukatsugi can also be viewed on YouTube (Goto ha Yagyu Shingan Ryu Taijutsu I) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiE4bKuhuE4
12. David Kawazu-Barber, Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu (personal communication, 19 February 2008)
13. David Kawazu-Barber, Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu (personal communication, 19 February 2008)
14. Ellis Amdur, (personal Communication, 19 February 2008)
15. AIKI BUDO
, Aikido Journal, contains the "1935 Asahi News Film." The "1935 Asahi New Film" captures O'Sensei in his prime performing numerous examples of Kokyu Nage arising from Koshi Nage.
Daigo, Toshiro. Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques
. Tokyo: Kodansha International, Limited, 2005.
Daito-ryu Aiki Ju-Jutsu Hiden Mokuroku 118 Jo, Volume 1
. DVD. Tokyo: BAB Japan Company, Limited.
Gleason, Geof. Anatomy of Judo
. London: Kaye & Ward Limited, 1969.
Kondo, Katsuyuki. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo
. Tokyo: Aiki News, 2000.
"Interview with Morihei Ueshiba and Kisshomaru Ueshiba." Aiki News #18, August 1976.
Pranin, Stanley A. Aikido Masters, Prewar Students of Morihei Ueshiba, Volume One
. Tokyo: Aiki News, 1993.
Pranin, Stanley. "Interview with Morihiro Saito." Aiki News
, #88, Summer 1991.
Saito, Morihiro. Takemusu Aikido, Volume 3
. Tokyo: Aiki News, 1996.
Stevens, John. The Essence of Aikido
. Tokyo: Kodansha International, Limited, 1993.
Ueshiba, Morihei. BUDO
. Tokyo: Kodansha International, Limited, 1991.
Yagyu Shingan-ryu Taijutsu
. Tokyo: BAB Video Series, Video #66.