Monday, August 26, 2013

I cheat at aikido

Originally published on

“I Cheat at Aikido”

    I have a confession to make.  I teach my students how to cheat.  In fact, I tell them “this is my cheat, try it this way.”  I’ve been studying martial arts now for over a decade, and I’ve been teaching aikido classes for just over a year now.  One night lying in bed, it occurred to me, these aren’t cheats.  I’m not importing a special code to get unlimited lives in Contra (and if you laugh at that, you’re as old as I am); I’m accomplishing the

O. Ratti's illustration of kote gaeshi
    Let me start off by giving an example of a “cheat.”  If the attacker performs a straight punch, the defender in aikido may perform a kote gaeshi wrist throw.  This involves using the momentum of the punch to continue the attacker’s motion forward, keeping them off balance as the defender grabs the wrist, and then turns to return the wrist towards the attacker. This results in either a broken wrist, or more likely, the attacker on the ground.  The technique only works well if the attacker is in motion.  If they ever catch their balance or composure enough, they will resist the returning wrist motion.  My cheat is that as I step next to the oncoming attack, I place the back of their elbow against my body, so that as I spin, I put pressure against their elbow forcing them to move more.  It allows me to prevail in some situations where the defense shouldn’t necessarily work.

Menyo scrolls of transmission
    I don’t ever remember being shown this.  This was something I picked up through experience somewhere in those 10+ years of training.  I’m not saying that this is some new discovery and I’m going to rename the technique.  What I’m thinking is that this was an accidental experience of an okudan, a hidden technique.  For those of you not familiar with Japanese systems, let me give you a little background.  In a traditional martial system, the instructor would demonstrate a technique, and then the students would try to infer, from what they saw, how the technique worked.  Okudan were techniques in Japanese martial arts curriculums that were not written down, nor were they taught to most of the practitioners.  These were reserved for the highest level students, usually only the head of the school and his descendents.  This way the instructor always could make sure he knew just a little more that someone he taught.  Most of you have probably experienced this.  You know that time your sensei threw you and didn’t appear to move.  That was an okudan.  But, like many things in the Japanese language, there is more than one way to define what an okudan is.  Okudan also can be the technique within the technique.  Once you have gotten the gross body movements of a technique down, you can then start to refine said technique.  In kote gaeshi, you can work on timing or the exact way to grab the wrist.  The okudan is a further refining where it becomes more internal and less external.  This is what I am calling my “cheats” – the things I’ve incorporated into my techniques to make them more efficient.

    Now that I’m teaching aikido, I’ve started to show my students my cheats.  I’m wondering now if this is a bad idea.  I may be robbing them of their own self-teaching experiences.   Am I reading them the last chapter in the book before they’ve gotten there?  Or am I just conferring as much information as I can to my students?  Because when I say “here’s a cheat I use,” the students react as if they are privy to some special piece of information.  Ultimately, I would hate to think that any student of mine would be the victim of an attack; however, I would hate to think of them as unable to defend themselves because I didn’t teach them everything I knew.   We live in a very information free society.  We’ve completely invested in the idea that information/knowledge is a right and not a privilege.   I agree with this as a general idea.  Nevertheless information and knowledge should be tempered by experience.  If I give all of my own experiences as instruction, my “cheats,” it will never become part of their technique as well as if the students figure it out for themselves.  And isn’t that the goal of an instructor, to make the martial art a part of the student?  I say it is which is why we may want to revisit the idea of okudan in martial arts.


  1. Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks, I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if thats cool. Thanks.
    My Cheats

    1. Link away...
      Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it.

  2. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information... aikido

  3. I really like the article, very deep, thanks for sahring