Sunday, August 19, 2012

Daito Ryu's Signature 大東流

So I have long been trying to verbalize what the techniques of Daito Ryu feel like and why, as opposed to the techniques of other arts.  I ask myself this so I can figure out where the line is between schools and practices.  Daito Ryu has unique signature that I am attempting to identify.

The following is a list of some of my ideas.  It is incomplete and limited by my inability to articulate and perform aiki.  These are my notes, so doubtless the reader will not understand all ideas that are are not flushed out yet.  Please feel free to add your thoughts.  Hopefully someone will find it useful in their own journey.  Likely you will find Daito Ryu artists, techniques and bio dynamics that are exceptions to everything I am writing about.In addition I am probably half correct or just plain wrong about many things. The only way to understand this stuff is to find someone who can do it really well and feel it.  Then it will probably take a couple of decades to start doing it well.

 1.  Direct entry 入り身

    Daito Ryu tends to have a direct entry.  Rather than seeking to evade or move off the line of attack Daito Ryu owns the line between partners and moves directly into it.  The entry is a central penetration of the opponent's attack structure.  It has a feeling that I have only felt with Japanese sword work of constant forward pressure on the opponents system.  While many arts are reactive, Daito Ryu feels to me to have an attitude of pro-activeness. It has a sen-sen no sen quality compared to the entry strategies of other aiki art forms.

2.  Control the center line

    While often Aikido prefers to play in the outside, Daito Ryu tends to play on the inside and up the middle.  The center line is often controlled.  When I first encountered Wing Chun theory it made a lot of sense to me from the Daito Ryu ideas about the application of technique.  I have felt a similar sensation in students of Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu, an art form often associated with Daito Ryu.

3.  Connection 結び and pressurization

    Because of the direct entry and control of the center line, Daito Ryu often feels like it has an overwhelming connection quality to it.  I often felt from my teacher like my entire system pressurized and I could feel my entire system have a heavy or unstoppable pressure put on it.  It feels very different to me from some of the light a floating feeling I have gotten from high level aikido players. In addition artists  from the Daito Ryu lineage tend to be excellent at what Don Angier calls commutive locking.  Essentially this is locking entire groups of joints to cause destabilization.  When my teacher did this to me it felt like he reached inside and grabbed my skeleton and drove me around with it.

4. Balance breaking 崩し

    One part of the  signature feeling is the mechanism of obtaining kuzushi, structure breaking.   The methodology is of crushing opponent’s attack stance and structure through central penetration. This includes strikes to the body.  There is a heavy emphasis on balance breaking on contact, the instant of connection.  There tends to be a preference in Daito Ryu techniques for up and down balance breaking directions - Aiki Age, Aiki Sage.  In addition there is often a creation of asymmetry in the posture of the attacker shortly after the connection is established.   The continuing feeling of the balance break leading into technique  tends to actualize in small circles -  especially through the shoulders.  Daito Ryu addresses the three systems that compose  balance; the vestibular, proprioception and visual systems.  The visual component of balance is attacked in many techniques by cutting the vision, interruption of visual field, or eye threats.

 5.Technique is made through entire body movement

    Aiki, whether in Daito Ryu or any other art is characterized by connection and movement coming from the center.  The footwork of Daito Ryu often expresses itself differently than what I often see in aikido.  Mind you I have seen a variety of differing applications from different lineages of Daito Ryu.  I only speak from my own experiences.  I see a preference for Shizen Hon Tai, a natural body posture.  Hanmi or deep kamae from sword work does not seem to be favored.  In mainline Daito Ryu they sometimes use a very wide stance after a lunge forward.  There is a emphasis on stable footwork, not loading weight back and forth.  Body rise and drop is minimized.  I have noticed good Daito Ryu artists tend to make less steps doing similar techniques than their aikido counterparts.  I have noticed that not only is the original step used to create effect, there also is an excellent use of the recovery step as effector.  Turning is not usually expressed through the large tenkan motions which are signature of  aikido movement. Instead I have seen in Daito Ryu a skillful short turning body around center core.

6. Use of Kote 小手

    While technique of made with the whole body, the majority of connections and lines of energy are drawn with the kote.  The kote is often thought of as the forearm, in the practice we can think of it a the hand through the elbow.  In Daito Ryu the majority of the connections are using one's own kote versus the opponent's kote to create connection and technique.  Even though many art forms have this hand to hand quality to them, again I feel Daito Ryu's signature is worth noting.  

    Good Daito Ryu artists have an ability to move around, or emit energy around the contact point.  For instance, if the wrists are grabbed and controlled, then a Daito Ryu artist might emit a pushing line through his own elbows, thus changing the relationship and controlling the attacker in a very unique way.  I have found artists use elbows as energy emitters in a great many techniques.

 7. Assumption of Weapons 

Some martial arts historians point to a connection between aiki and kenjitsu.  My teacher said aiki comes from the sword.  Takeda the modern father of Daito Ryu was also a swordsman in the Onoha Ittoryu kenjitsu lineage.While much of the time in many Daito Ryu groups in spent with empty hand training, every Daito Ryu teacher I have worked with emphasizes that weapons are involved.  My own teacher, Ota Sensei,  taught from the perspective that you were going for your sword or knife and your opponent was grappling with you to stop the draw of the weapon.  Additionally atemi after a technique is complete is often taught that it is the killing blow done with the weapon.  Also during the execution a technique the question is often asked "would that work with a knife?"  There is an assumption that the emtpy hand could indeed be a knife hand.
 8. Relaxation

     As I mentioned earlier, there is a characteristic pressurization of the opponents system  in many Daito Ryu techniques.  As a young student I often though this was muscle.  But Indeed Daito Ryu done well is done with a relaxed body and can be very soft.  While muscles are used, practice in my old dojo focused on  use of only  necessary muscle groups using efficient lines to create the desired result.  

·   Probably many more


  1. Intriguing analysis. Sounds to be a lot more different from aikido then I had imagined before. I'd love to cross hands with someone in Daito Ryu and see what that's about.

  2. I do think Daito Ryu is much more linear than Aikido, which, with my martial arts journey beginning with Shotokan Karate in 1993, appeals to me. And as an ex-Marine, I also believe a good ole' Atemi helps a balance break better than a hand waved in the face! ;-)

    Also, as soon I tried a Daito Ryu related art several years ago (Gendai Bushi Ryu [Shidare Yanagi Ryu] at the Austin YMCA in 1994), after trying USAF Aikido in Huntsville earlier that same year, which felt "a lot like dancing," (yes, I believe its a book title) my thought went to Wally Jay's book on "Small Circle JuJitsu," and I will propose its the difference between little circles (Daito Ryu) and big circles (Aikido). And to state the obvious, small circle jujitsu was not a new idea.

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  4. All of the points you mention here are arquetypical of good Aikido. And then I mean Morihei Ueshiba's Aikido, not modern Aikido. Honestly.