Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Definitive Shomen Ate 正面当て

Tomiki performing Shomen Ate on Obha


Shomen Ate 正面当て is the first movement of the Tomiki 17 kata, 17本. This is one of the more powerful, and complicated motions explored in the kata. I can say with some certainty that this motion is universally one of the poorest executed techniques that is typically performed by the average Tomiki player. Why is this? I think it is because we have a poor understanding of what we are doing and why. I hope to clear this up through this examination.

The definition

正面当てShomen Ate is often incorrectly defined a 'face strike', but in fact this motion does not have to be done to the face.

shōmen 【正面】 - front, frontage, facade, main

ateru 【当てる】- to hit, to expose, to apply

Rather than choosing a single definition, I think it is valuable for the aikido student to absorb the multiple meaning of the word presented here.

For further exploration of the atemi concept and principle
- here.

Yoshinkan trains this motion as well, typically it is called shomen tsuki 正面突き. While I do not know what aikikai lineage folks might call this my research indicates 'ago tsuki nage'. It is considered a variation of the kokyo and irimi nage ideas. If the names of techniques are decided by the presence of irimi (entering) then shomen ate would all be called 'irimi nage'.

Shomen Ate as principle

Shomen ate as it is commonly practiced and thought of is a technique. However every single high level teacher I have ever trained with has said, there are no techniques in aikido, there is only application of principle. So the first conceptual puzzle the student searching for deeper understanding must face is that there is no shomen ate technique.

There is no shomen ate technique

Shomen Ate as architectural relationship

Then what is shomen ate? Shomen Ate is aiki principle being exercised in a particular architectural relationship. The relationship in Shomen Ate is aiki principle as it is applied to the front of the partner. Typically the person exercising shomen ate will be in the uke's inside, or uchi.

I think this shift in understanding in crucial. Remember that Tomiki Sensei tried to distill the essence of Ueshiba's aikido into a student friendly form. Ueshiba moved freely in a great number of creative ways. He did not move in a tightly controlled kata parameter. The purpose of the kata is to give us the training wheels so we can move beyond the katas limitations and eventually generalize the principles of aikido to all situations.

Formlessness of Shomen Ate

As students in the lineages of Tomiki we are instructed in technique. We copy what our teachers tell us to perform. Most see and describe the techniques in terms of angles and lines, and where the application of energy happens. Many students grow to believe that there is a single way that shomen is to be done to be correct. This is flawed thinking. Aikido is flowing and formless. No technique can be perfectly replicated again and again. Why? - Because the situation and circumstances are always changing.

-There is no specific connection that has to be applied for a technique to be Shomen Ate.
-There is no specific part of the body that has to be used.
-There is no specific entry for Shomen Ate.
-There is no specific way for the exchange of energy between tori and uke.
-There is no particular geometry that must be used in the motion
-There is no specific timing that must be used

The single defining feature of shomen ate is the forward architectural relationship. Everything else is exploration, artistry, accommodation to circumstance, skill and stylistic preference.

In my humble opinion the single most detrimental aspect in the exploration of Shomen Ate is rigidity of form. Save yourself some time dear student - there is no specific form.

The textbook form

Let us look a few text book versions so we might understand what Shomen Ate looks like in the classic sense. By no means was the 17 kata (17本) meant to be the definitive study of aiki technique - it was merely the introductory guide to get college students quickly playing the sport.

In the first example we see Nariyama Shihan in Japan performing a text book style version of the idea.

The next version we see another lovely text book classic example from the Aikibudokan.

Variations of Form

Here we see shomen ate performed at the Essex Aikido Dojo (Shoshinkan.) They seem to have a driving energy preference. Tori gets off the line, then blasts through uke. One variation I see here that I often use is catching the recovery leg with the hand. Watch tori's left hand catch uke's right leg when he goes to recover.

Here we see some university students practicing a slowed down version. I believe they are part of the KiHara / Fugakukai lineage. They are using a later timing and floatier feeling. Notice how the back foot of uke pivots around him. This is often seen in later timing and circular executions of shomen ate. Also the tori is not driving through, instead he follows uke's energy.

In this film we see some non-Tomiki lineage folks doing a shomen ate. One interesting thing is uke's attack - a hand blade version of shomen ate. Then tori responded by getting off line and performing shomen ate right back.

Here he uses different footwork

The same group posted another example with a tenkan entry.

Here is a hiki taioshi counter with a tanto shomen ate. Notice his connection is different. He uses his arm as a connection.

Here we see one in a competition. Notice how radically different his execution is from traditional form? Still a Shomen Ate.

Here is Tadayuki Sato at 2001 Maishima seminar teaching variations of Shomen Ate.

Here is Nick Ushin Lowry's excellent instruction videos on shomen ate

For those of you that are serious gluttons for Shomen Ate, here I am discussing my version of shomen ate and its relationship to the Daito Ryu kuruma daoshi.

Here is a group discussions the changes they have made in the technique.

The same group shows its explanation of the technique

 Sato explaining the hand exchange



  1. sweet-- well done -- love the compare and contrast theme-- i'd like to see this type of treatment with the walking sometime -- comparing not only across training systems but also across time too

  2. Thank you. I am a lower ranking student but I agree. Shomen Ate is not a technique. It feels wrong to me when I attempt to treat it as such.

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