Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sotai Taiso 相対 体操

My buddies over the the 207 blog recently asked me an interesting question. The question might be interesting to Tomiki lineage enthusiasts anyhow. Basically he wanted to know what the "releases" that I was talking about, and if it was related to modern forms found in the Shodokan line of Tomiki aikido. Clearly over the years there has been major evolutions in the katas and they way they are practiced in all the branches of the Tomiki lineages. Each of the lineages seem to preserve some aspect of the original, yet it twists and morphs in the hands of the new practitioners and teachers. I see this blog article as a rough draft. I invite all those with knowledge about the subject to contribute, either here or at thedragonsorb@gmail.com

It seems fairly clear that Kenji Tomiki understood the educational value of simplifying complex systems. He took the myriad of complex movements of Daito Ryu and Ueshiba's early prewar aikibudo, and broke it down into a logical judo-like organizational system. It seems like he was searching for a way to practice and transmit the most basic parts of the aiki art in a periodic table of physical motion. The teaching forms he came up with are more or less the 10,000 techniques of Ueshiba's aikido condensed to a basic student curriculum. He made the exercises into three parts. Tandoku - solo practice. This kind of exercise is often called Aiki Taiso in other systems. Sotai is the paired work.  Finally he had a kata of techniques, which would eventually become the 17. Here is a list from around 1960 (approximate guess)

For this article I wish to focus in on the Sotai Taiso 相対 体操 and how it has evolved.  Essentially this exercise where the goal was not to throw, but to practice connection, timing and structure breaking.   By the 1950s Kenji Tomiki 富木 謙治 was busy compiling a system of aikido based education he called the Judo Taiso 柔道 体操. During this time he formulated a blending and balance breaking exercise. Here we see Kenji Tomiki in that time period demonstrating it starting at 1:11. Clearly it was an important part of his work, as it appeared in both the film and his book Judo Taiso. Apparently it was standard practice as Yamada was demonstrating it in the film in the late 1950s or early 60s in this film @ the 4:00. In the more modern school run by Fujiwara in Japan they also practice it. In this film we can see them training using this exercise at the 7:46 mark. The film is interesting as it shows clearly that solo practice and Sotai Taiso 相対 体操 were an important part of the the practice.

Nick Ushin Lowry of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai is a prolific contributor to Tomiki lineage scholarship. He generously posted a analysis on the Tomiki's old Sotai Taiso exercise as seen in the old films.

I am having trouble finding many modern JAA schools that practice (or at least post videos) of the sotai taiso. Though another power house of Tomiki lineage scholarship made a film. From Europe we have the Tomiki study group performing some interesting variations of the exercise. Perhaps one of them will be kind enough to write me and let me know their thoughts and history of this exercise in their line.

In the practice of Tomiki aikido that comes from the Kogure and Miyake teaching lines in the United States one of the prominent and foundational studies is called the releases, release exercises, hanasu, hanasu no kata, or musubi renshu. I seems clear to me that this exercise was an evolution of the sotai dosa. At this point of my research it is somewhat unclear who codified the execises into the form we see today.

The Releases

 1) Hon Soto Hanasu           normal outside release 
       2) Hon Soto Te Osu            normal outside hand push 
    3) Gyaku Soto Hanasu         reverse outside release 
         4) Gyaku Soto Te Osu          reverse outside hand push
  5) Hon Uchi Hanasu             normal inside release 
       6) Hon Uchi Ude Hineri         normal inside arm twist 
    7) Gyaku Uchi Hanasu          reverse inside release 
       8) Gyaku Uchi Ude Hineri    reverse inside arm twist 

I have spent a few nights on the phone with teachers that come from the Tomiki/Kogure/Miyake teaching lineage. I asked them about the question of the hanasu no kata (releases) and where it came from. I have heard two stories thus far.

 1. One teacher attributed the diffusion of the release forms to Miyake Sensei. They said she taught it as a exercise at a seminar, and many of the American students codified and kata-fied it.

 2. Another speculated that it might have come from Riki Kogure. Kogure is a prolific kata writer in his own right. Kogure was a major figure in the distribution of Tomiki lineage aikido in the United States and many students that learned under him have unique katas, such as the O waza Ju Pon or Big 10.

3. I think it is clear the releases come directly from Tomiki's work.  We see the exercises already being formulated in the 1950s films and books.  Attributing the work to Miyake or Kogure seems unlikely.

From MSU aikido we see a student practicing their version of the exercise.

Next we can see the head of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai sharing his thoughts on the releases.


  1. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for gathering all of this material! There's a lot to digest, but I hope to try some of this stuff soon. - Charlie