NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

An Answer for Every Attacker

By Jonathan Wilson

Before we get started, take a minute to name all  50 of the Classical Techniques.  Run through the list in your head as fast as you can.  Now consider this question:  “Which technique will you use the most during your test?”

If your list looks like most I’ve seen, there will be heavy doses of Arm Bars, Elbow Chops, Front Wrist Throws and Peel Offs.  Throw in a few High Bridges, Pivot Take Downs, Slaps to the Side of the Head, and a Spin Around or two, and you’ve probably accounted for 75% of the techniques you’ll end up using.  All that said, if your list is a version of that list, well you’ve fallen into a serious trap.  

“Trap?” ~~~ You bet.  

THE Technique You Will Use More Than Any Other On Your Sho-Dan test is not one of the 50 Classical Techniques.  Furthermore, the Technique you will use most should be indelibly identifiable in every attack. “What is this all encompassing technique?” ~~~~  It is your Initial Movement.

“Blending,” “Entering,” “Turning,” “Twisting,” (Tenkan, Irimi, Tenkai, Tenshin, Irimi-Tenkan, etc., etc.).  Call it what you will, but you should be moving in an identifiable “non-staggering/ non-shuffling motion.”  We don’t want to get too caught up in the details of movement in this newsletter, but you have to master these concepts if your aikido is going to flow like water.

Watch enough tests for sho-dan, and you will see instances when Initial Movement takes a back seat to fatigue, or a loss of focus.  A static, unmoving, nage is an easy target, and an ugly aikidoka.  Without movement aikido is forced to rely on muscle, and it gets ugly in the process.  We are working on a martial art ~ mind you.  Not a collection or set of self defense tactics.  In the name itself, “martial art,”  there is an implied beauty, and we should strive to have that beautiful essence in our practice and on our test at all times.

Back to the test.  Keep in mind that you are expecting the attack when it comes on the test.  If you have extended periods of static responses, or sloppy Initial Movements on the test, how will you respond on the street, where you will most likely be surprised by the sudden onset of violence ~ when there is no second chance?  Whether our motivation is “beauty” or “effectiveness,” (and I submit your goal should be both), precise and clear Initial Movements must be an ingrained, conditioned, and automatic response in your psyche for every attack.

For testing purposes, the greater point is that you’ve got to respond to uke’s attack with some fashion of an initial movement.  In my mind, every Initial Movement you utilize should be clear to everyone watching on every attack.

Over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working on getting together a list of possible Initial Movements ~ complete with my own rudimentary footwork diagrams, etc.  I believe this list (summarized here) details most possibilities, and also creates great angles for follow-up up technique.

Rather than review them all here in the newsletter, I’ll just analyze my current favorite Initial Movement:  The Tenshin Movement, and direct you to the Movement Principles part of the website for more detail on the others.  

The Tenshin Movement.  Let me be clear.  The Tenshin Movement is the bomb.  Put it in your arsenal of Initial Movements; you will not regret the decision.  

Generally speaking the Tenshin Movement is back and off line from the attack.  Dale Roznowski once explained the Tenshin Movement to me as a “backwards hamni walk” (assuming you were in a hamni stance at the onset), and I think this is a very good starting point for our definition.  Of course, we will most likely be in shizentai when attacked (neutral stance), so things might get confusing if you think about it solely as a backwards hamni walk initially.  Not to complicate the matter further, but we should also mention that the Tenshin Movement is not exactly a footwork pattern as much as it is a Movement Philosophy in which uke is drawn into the space nage was just occupying and is off balanced..... But why confuse things? ~~~ lol

Are you still with me?  If I lost you, let me try to reel you back in here.  On the point.  Rather than getting bogged down in the finer details, or the “how”, let’s focus on the “why” of the movement because understanding “why the tenshin movement is useful” is the key motivation toward its synthesis in your own freestyle aikido training.  

So, “Why?” The general idea or purpose of the Tenshin Movement is to Draw uke into the space Nage just occupied.  As previously discussed, it is a movement that is back and slightly off line.  It buys time for nage at uke’s own peril.  It is a strategic retreat that sucks uke past his operating center into an over extended, unbalanced, and extremely vulnerable position.  I works well on slow attacks, fast attacks (as stepping back is the more natural reaction to a fast and unexpected attack), round attacks and straight attacks.  It’s origins are in sword movements were you hold a line as long as you can, and then move back and away to create a new line that flanks uke, as you unbalance him.

In Aikido of Charlotte’s Summer Friendship Seminar this past June 2015, Sensei Dennis Main asked me to serve as his uke in one of his final demonstrations of the day.  The attack was a straight punch to the face.  We were in gyaku hamni (my right foot was forward and his left foot was forward).  As I attacked, he stepped back and offline, and extended my attack through the place his center line used to be, and then drew my hand down into his new center.  This is the Tenshin Movement.  

He did the initial Tenshin movement, and stopped before applying the technique.  I did my best to not fall down.  

After a pause that allowed me to recover just enough, he did an effortless Spinning Hip Throw Application that sent me sailing across the mat back in the direction I had come from.  I rolled, recovered, and was privileged to be asked to attack him a few more times.  On maybe the third attack, he began to lower his center as he moved back, and I did nearly drop to my knees at that point (all before any technique was applied).  

It was a powerful testament to the Tenshin movement’s potential.  After the first attack, I knew what he was going to do and how he would go about doing it, but the instant I tried to “touch” his chin with my fist, I was unwittingly transitioned into an extremely precarious situation, that led to effortless and powerful aikido technique.  

This is the magic of sound initial movement, and so many times this idea gets lost on the sho-dan test in favor of the muscular application of technique in the absence of initial movement.  Fight against this tendency to become a stature on your own test!  As one of our founding father’s once said, “Give Me Tenshin Movements Or Give Me Death!”


In the words of one of our Nihon Goshin Aikido Yudanshakai, “I want to move like a little girl and throw like a Greyhound Bus.”  If you get your initial movement down, you will throw like a bus ~ if (and exactly when) you want to.  I guarantee it.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so lets consider a few pictures to the left and a video.  Here is an article I previously wrote on the Tenshin Movement.

One last point.  In terms of the initial movements, the Tenshin Movement is not one we see a lot of in our art, but it is insanely useful, and devastatingly powerful.  I encourage you to explore it’s usefulness in your own training.

What say ye?



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The Tenshin Movement ~ modified to operate out of a shizentai stance.  It is a movement back and off line, offering tremendous kuzushi (balance breaking) opportunities.  The Tenshin movement works especially well against round attacks.  Unlike Irimi and Tenkan Movements, the Tenshin Movement draws uke into the space nage was holding.

The Tenshin Movement

The Tenshin Movement demonstrated.   

Note how nage controls uke’s striking hand past the center line and into kuzushi.

The Tenshin Movement ~ draws uke into the space nage was holding ~ unbalancing him.  Uke’s back heel rising is a sign it’s being done well.

The Tenshin Movement

I used the Tenshin Movement to get here ~ (see video below) also.

Uke’s attack was a backhand strike, which I parried well, stepping back with Tenshin movement to effectively unbalance Uke.... Then I undercut him with an evolved application.   It’s a cross between a Body Block, Pivot Over the Back, Back Breaker, with a little Muggers Throw thrown in for fun.  

While the fall is surprisingly easy, it’s still not a technique you want to bust out on someone with out confidence in their ukemi abilities.  

Before my attack line test, I did this technique on every attacker to make sure they were ready for it.

Uke Appears Unhappy ~~~

@1:00 you can see the entire attack complete with Tenshin Initial movement

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