Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who Owns the Release Motions?

Time to get attacked on the internet again! A few years back I shot some video notes of me doing the first release motion from a variety of positions and connections. The video was OK, not stunning work, but it was creative and fun to do. A fellow budoka decided to post on the video's comments. (I removed the organization name, as this was an individual's responses - not official beef from the organization) I also corrected the persons spelling, but not content.

"I found this video while checking for fraudulent and illegal use of people representing themselves as associated with (organization name) kata. I am a member of (organization name), and not only is this a pathetic attempt at replicating a portion of our syllabus, but let it be known this video and person has no association with or permission to attempt (organization name)'s Kata, no matter how badly and incorrect it may be...SHOW SOME COMMON RESPECT IF YOU CAN."

I think his statement brings up some interesting questions, so I will honor it, and become introspective as I blog about it. So what this gentleman is saying is that the organization he is a member of owns the kata, and it is illegal for others to practice it. While I respect this fellows integrity, and loyalty to his organization I feel like he has some baseless thoughts. I don’t care what he thinks about my skill level, but the idea that his organization owns a set of physical movements is ludicrous.

I wish to address these good fellows concerns. I have never claimed to represent or to be an associate of the organization in question. That was a false presumption on his part. I do have many good friends in the organization though. The reason this person decided to attack is because I used the name of the kata that his organization uses as a name for the kata. To be fair to me, certified teachers from that organization taught me the kata and taught me the name. It is the name I have always used. Whatever the name, it fundamentally is the same exercise performed in many organizations. I removed the name and any mention of any organization from the videos information because I am a nice guy, and I don’t want to ruffle people’s feather too much. Keep it. Peace man. I don’t care what it is called. Despite my apparent lack in skill in the exercises I have invested a great number of years into it, and I plan on continuing its practice until I do have some skill.

As far as calling me pathetic goes....“As soon as you concern yourself with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you.”
- Morihei Ueshiba

So as to the legal question, can I legally practice this kata? Let us look at it from a legal standpoint first. According to legal precedent - trademarks don't cover exercise methods.

Pilates Lawsuit

As an interesting sidenote I found with a little more research I found Aikido is indeed trademarked. It is an insecticide for agricultural use. Aikido® is a registered trademark used for Insecticide for Agricultural Use and owned by Helm Agro US, Inc…” Oh yeah, as I mentioned, you can’t trademark an exercise.

Where does the release motion exercise come from? Was this organization the aikidoka is a part of, invent this kata as he suggests? The answer is no. It comes straight from Tomiki Sensei who died before the organization the artist belongs to was formed.

The most popular name for the exercises in the American Tomiki world is the Hanasu No Kata, or the releases. I estimate that the kata is practiced in at least 100 dojos in the United States. But where are the roots of it? Let us return to cannon film of our lineage of aikido. The film that presumably was filmed in the mid to late 1950s as Tomiki Sensei was developing his book and lecture series 'Judo Taido'. Clearly we see the exercises being performed by Tomiki Sensei that would become the exercises we modern American aikidoka practice. Tomiki Sensei has a slightly different emphasis than many modern players have, but the root is obvious. He starts around the 1:30 mark.

Then there is the influence of Miyake Sensei on the transmission of the exercises. She was a student of Kenji Tomiki and extremely influential on Tomiki Aikido spreading to the United States. I have heard she was often in charge of teaching foreign students in Japan. She has also been to the United States many times to teach. As the lore goes she was largely responsible for teaching (and maybe formally organizing) the series of exercises.

Nick Ushin Lowry ,8th dan and head of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai recently wrote about his knowledge of the history of the practice.

"First -- the name-- as a name "Hanasu no kata" probably goes back to someone stateside (Merritt?? Geis??-- I dont know specifically) -- I am told that Ms. Miyake didn't name it Hanasu no Kata nor did she consider it a " formal kata" as such and was surprised to see it referred to in that way -- a little research reveals that we can find similar/ and near identical forms which are named (I think arguably more accurately) "shichihon no kuzushi" (seven forms of balance break--comprising the first seven of yon kata but without throws) and "musubi renshu" (connection practice-- emphasizing kuzushi and control mechanics) -- I like these other names because the term hanasu -- "to break free or to release" is a pretty limited context for all what goes on in these exercises -- also to delineate it as a kata rather than an informal practice form or exercise was probably a misstep somewhere along the way that took on a life of its own as such things sometimes do."

"As a form of practice I think historically what we see in the eight releases is pretty close to the first section of koryu dai yon and also to the "dynamic 11," a warm up exercise that Tomiki used at Waseda in the 50's and 60's that is like the "8 releases" with a few waza added but all of them terminating with falls -- I suspect that the "dynamic 11" was Tomiki's invention and it probably gave rise to both the early part of yon kata and the eight releases -- the codification of 8 waza or practice forms that came to be called Hanasu no Kata may be an adaptation of those exercises originating from either Mr. Kogure or Ms. Miyake most likely"

One interesting story recently came to light on the ‘Thoughtful Sensei ‘blog, L.F. Wilkinson Sensei 8th dan, recently wrote…

“When one of my Sensei's Sensei came over to the US on tour, my wife and I were tasked with escorting her from seminar to seminar while my wife acted as uke for her teachings; a great honor I might add. It gave us some behind the scenes on how high level Japanese Sensei view some things. We walked into a dojo while on the tour and on the wall the dojo proprietor, concerned about the proper Japanese names, had cobbled together Japanese names and had done poster boards with the names of The Walking (and every movement in it) and the 8 Releases (and every movement in that also). Sensei read the boards, turned away towards Lynn and I so no one could see and used her hand to hide her laughter before she said, "Walking and releases have no name. Not kata. Just walking and just exercise." She appreciated the sincere efforts but she said that Tomiki had never thought the exercises important enough for formal names; there are not being formal kata per se.”

So is this series of exercises widespread? I quick search I found films of three different organizations performing the practice.

Some students in Fugakukai recording their practice.

The head of Kaze Uta Budo kai teaching it for the whole world to steal!

American Tomiki Aikido Association dojo


Who owns the kata? Anyone who sincerely practices it owns it. As said before trademarks don't cover exercise methods. One might argue that it is their ‘name’. Fine keep it. It is all just movement anyhow.

Who invented the exercises? They are human principles of motion. It has been around in some form before any modern organization or teacher, but if you want to name a person I vote for Tomiki. The only organizations I am aware Tomiki Sensei was part of was Kodokan and Shodokan. Perhaps Kodokan and Shodokan are the rightful owners. Oh wait, you can't trademark an exercise.

Will I continue its practice? In some form of fashion I will be studying until I can no longer move. If people don’t want other people to study something, perhaps it should never be taught to anyone. I don’t care the name of it, or how teacher X,Y or Z does it. It is a gift to the world. As Ueshiba Sensei wrote, “Aikido has no form - it is the study of the spirit. Ultimately, you must forget about technique. The further you progress, the fewer teachings there are. The Great Path is really No Path.”

As to my critics final phrase, "SHOW SOME COMMON RESPECT IF YOU CAN" I would be happy to show respect. I never met a man I didn't like. I have harmed none in my walk through the world. Since I have shown respect by thoughtfully responding to your queries, please accept a word of advice. I have private email. Feel free to use it. People will find me friendly and willing to work with any concerns.

Walk In Peace,



  1. AWWWWwww.. That's a good lil Reply...

    Mine would have been quite shorter... And not so nice.

  2. I,m glad these goons are so attracted to you so i have fewer of them to put up with. Good response.