Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Myth - why people flip from kote gaeshi

Kote Gaeshi, the wrist return is a classical aiki throwing form. The physics of it seems irrational to the new student. How could a person be thrown from a wrist connection into a head over heels flip?

The answer that is given by many Aiki teachers is

"People have to take the fall to avoid having their wrist broken."

In my humble opinion training with this view on the mechanics is a huge heap of manure. What they are really saying is, "I have not figured out the mechanics of the throw yet, so I conditioned this guy to jump over for me."

To be a real and effective technique kotegaeshi must affect uke's center, distort their structure and break balance. Any pain on the wrist comes from stylistic temperament and ethics, improper use of power, or flawed application of mechanics.

Application of the lock should transmit energy through uke's elbow, shoulder, and torso. Kote gaeshi is not a wrist break, it is a connection from one center of balance to another's. Pure and simply it is connection. The best artists can do this technique without any pain, and virtually no detectable pressure for the proprioceptive nervous system of uke to register. This, in my opinion should be the highest goal of all artists: no pain, minimal pressure.

So why do people flip out of the technique?

Simple answer is because they were told to. For the vast majority of kote gaeshi throws actually an easy back fall would suffice. In the past five years I have only been forced to choose a flipping break fall maybe twice. Sure I bet someone out there can really nail it, but for the several hundred thousand of other practitioners, we are playing make believe when we take these throws. Yes there is collusion in the way aikido is often practiced. It is ok, as long as you recognize it, admit it and are using it as a tool to get to the next level.

A few years ago I was at a dojo and a man was fervently arguing that a flip was the only proper and safe way to get out of kote gaeshi. He was upset that I could always take a easy back fall out of the technique. "Really? Ok I will tell you what, I will throw you ten times as hard as I can and you have to take the flip, and you can throw me ten times as hard as you can, and I will back fall. That way we can see which method of ukemi is superior" He agreed. I bowed off the mat, put on some slippers and walked outside into the parking lot. "Where are you going?" the man asked. I responded "We are doing it out here on the concrete." I casually kicked some broken glass, and sharp rocks out of the way as he declined the invitation to demonstrate the superiority of his technique in non ideal conditions.

Sure I know, your Sensei could throw me and make me flip. I know, I know. There are many circumstances were this condition happens, but the flipping ukemi is one possible falling reaction, not the rule.

So why do most aikidoka flip out of kote gaeshi? I believe it is the collusion that flaws much of our practice. There are artists that can make it happen, yes. So we, the humble students, try to copy the example without understanding the mechanics. We have to justify the flipping action great sensei got that alludes us so we rationalize an excuse. We tell people they better flip or their wrists will break, and we perpetuate a false myth about the practice. We then practice aikido that looks like the way the high level teachers do it, but it is a pale imitation. The collusion kote gaeshi techniques are a mere phantasm of aiki. They are a faux reflection lacking the substance and mechanics of a martially valid expression of principle.

You can probably write a book about what happens to a person going through a masterful kote gaeshi. "Flipping out to avoid the wrist breaking" would not be in it.


  1. Yes, the aikido uke is in collusion with shite. Flipping is one way out. A part of the practice is to "make harmony" between shite and uke and doing the beautiful forward breakfall is part of it.

    From a purely pragmatic application by shite, the extreme would be to drive uke's hand/wrist into the ground and make him fall over your hip or leg to boot!

  2. Personally I think that the zenpo kaiten ukemi is a way of being able to put yourself in a better position (possible kaeshiwaza)than one of being on your back and able to be kicked, especially if you are able to take a small piece of him with you... it doesn't have to be the huge dramatic deal most make it out to be (and yes I will do this with you on concrete as I personally do practice in the rocky terrain and would like a nice smooth mat of asphalt instead)
    The other side of this coin is one of which the real question is what is your definition of Ukemi? Is it the practice of putting yourself in a better position, or is it simply one of being able to flip yourself about?

  3. Why do people flip out of the technique? Because most people don't execute the technique well. And indeed, to prevent damage to my wrist, I would flip out of the technique in a heartbeat to release the tension being cranked into the joint. That said, it is possible to apply kotegaeshi without cranking the wrist by creating a connection to uke's center; using it to misalign their structure; and following that misalignment with tai otoshi to collapse their structure. When done this way, uke's normal response is a backfall. And indeed, this is the way we teach it.

  4. You are correct that people need not take high falls from kotegaeishi. It's nice to hear some honesty. I think many times, it's lazier and easier on the wrist and because there is a mat on the ground why not. Parking lot is a different story. Nobody on the street is going to flip into the air unless you drive your hip through. And that's assuming you can pull off a wrist lock in the first place.

  5. I disagree Bednar,
    You only want to turn out if they do not have the true intent to hurt you, as when you unfold your wrist to a backfall they can continue to attack you even easier as your now at their feet/knee level.
    If your real aim is to hurt me I WILL NOT fold around to a back fall so you can kick me as well. I will start a forward roll and Take your arm with me so I am in a better position than before. If you have proper ukemi there is not difference between concrete and mat.

  6. My experience is that if kotegaeshi is thrown, you cannot avoid an airfall and the trained response is to keep from being landed on top of your head, which is the intention of the throw. That said, MOST people do not "throw" kotegaeshi, therefore I do not take (ie, give) an airfall.

    My understanding is there should be a forward element in the throw, almost like leading the trailing shoulder into it, rather than throwing to the side, down the line of the step and leading shoulder, which gives uke the choice of sitting or colluding in the flip.

    One issue is that most people throw (ie, apply) kotegaeshi on the down step, which encourages the sit-out. Some of the old-timers throw on the body rise, which encourages air time. I was taught throwing in the 17 on the foot strike, which would be drop, and on the rise in the big ten. However, the throw has been taught on the rise in the 17 as well.

    I have read Daito-ryu people who say there is NO throwing in Aikido, only attacks to the joints, and the airfalls are trained responses to avoid damage and pain. My reaction was that these people had never really been thrown. Most Aikido people have never experienced good judo tachi-waza, of which there is rarely any question of collusion. Perhaps one could identify the judo throw closest in mechanics, analyze why that works in a contested situation, then apply that to the wrist connection.

  7. In YMAA-style chin na we had something called "turning around heaven and earth" which is essentially kotegaeshi. We did not flip. We dropped to our knee (or face first) and tapped. There is a point where your wrist is screwed but I'm not sure flipping will save it.

  8. Have you tried looking at the ukemi as an escape or reversal technique?