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Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Takumakai: Tachiwaza kakarite

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by Hakaru Mori

Aikido Journal #118 (Fall/Winter 1999)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

Hakaru Mori (8th dan) General Affairs Manager of the Takumakai. Born in 1931. Mori was first taught Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu by Takuma Hisa in 1962. He received Kyoju Dairi certification in 1965 and 8th dan in 1973.

The Japanese term te no uchi, roughly translated as “palm of the hand” or “within the hand,” has a variety of meanings and usages. One of these refers to ways in which weapons like swords and bows should be held and gripped in order to use them effectively. These holding and gripping skills have always been considered particularly important factors influencing overall skill (or lack of it) with weapons, and their secrets have typically been passed down through the ages in maxims like “…as if imprinting sweets with a tea cloth,* …with the spirit of holding an umbrella, and …as if holding an egg in the palm.” Expressions like these were carefully conceived by our forebearers to describe the important points about the proper “frame of mind” when holding a weapon and the proper relationship of one’s palm to the haft of that weapon.

Learning how to hold and grip a weapon properly may seem, at first glance, a fairly straightforward affair, but in fact it can be unexpectedly difficult. True mastery of the subtleties involved cannot be achieved in a short time, and is even regarded by some as involving a lifetime of practice and improvement. One difficulty is that all of the most important details take place inside the hand, out of sight, making it difficult to discern them just by looking.

This idea of “concealment in the palm of the hand,” incidentally, has given the Japanese language several other idiomatic meanings for te no uchi, for example “a hidden skill or capacity” and “one’s true intentions.” In any case, te no uchi naturally is an important aspect of empty-handed techniques as well, but as I will describe later, in Daito-ryu what we are often concerned with is not necessarily our own te no uchi, but rather that of our opponent. Like most styles of jujutsu, Daito-ryu is comprised of empty-handed (as opposed to armed) techniques that rely on manipulating your opponent’s body in some way in order to effect a throw or takedown. Obviously this requires “taking hold” of your opponent’s body in some way. There are specific ways to do this, of course, and like learning to grip a weapon, they are not necessarily so easily mastered.

Further, as I mentioned in an earlier essay, in Daito-ryu this “taking hold” has two possible dimensions, one involving you taking hold of your opponent, the other involving your opponent taking hold of you. In the former — taking hold of your opponent — you grip some part of your opponent’s body in the process of setting up and applying a technique, and despite certain differences in objective and method, the te no uchi used for this shares points of similarity with the te no uchi used in weapons techniques.

The other kind of “taking hold,” however, occurs in the reverse situation, when your opponent grips some part of your body, as is often the case in grappling arts such as jujutsu. In such cases, we deliberately make no attempt to free ourselves from the opponent’s grip, and in fact take advantage of it in setting up a technique of our own. This is one of the most important principles underlying the Daito-ryu response to a wide variety of grabbing-type attacks like sodedori, eridori, ryotedori, and katatedori, and the resulting techniques demonstrate a subtlety that is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Daito-ryu.

Of course, since it is your opponent who is holding onto you in such cases, the te no uchi you need to consider is not your own, but rather that of your opponent. For techniques against grabs to your hands or wrists (ryotedori, katatedori, etc.) in particular, your wrist is held against your opponent’s palm, within his te no uchi so to speak. There are various ways and means you can use to move your hand while keeping in that position, and if you learn and integrate these into your technique, you then have the basis to develop “aiki techniques” that are truly elegant and subtle in a way distinctively characteristic of Daito-ryu. These ways of moving your hand while it remains held within your opponent’s grip, and the subtle “kokyu” they involve, are what I have termed “te no uchi.”

For example, an opponent holding onto your wrist is in the seemingly advantageous position of being able to control the movement of your hand. But if you have mastered te no uchi, when you apply your defense he suddenly finds that despite this perceived advantage, it is actually he who is being controlled by you, and that he has even become unable to release his own grip on your wrist. In other words, the attacker finds himself manipulated by the hand that is actually within his own grip.

In such a case, the only point of actual contact between you and your attacker is between the back of your wrist and hand and his palm. Thus, your only option for manipulating his body is to somehow move the back of your hand even as it is held within his grip. You can do this by learning how to transfer your power through the physiologically weak areas inside his hand, stimulating it to move into a position that, because of its physical structure, prevents him from easily letting go. Then, you continue using the back of your hand to transfer your power through his palm to his elbow, shoulder, and from there into his body as a whole, effectively giving you control of his movement and balance.

Since the actual area of direct contact involved is quite small — and the specific points you must affect in order to manipulate his whole body even smaller — such movements tend to be very small and subtle, and therefore quite difficult to perceive and understand.

Nonetheless, anyone who has ever seen a Takumakai demonstration or practiced at one of our dojos will certainly be familiar with the sight of an attacker suddenly being floated up or forced down, as if shocked by electricity, and freely bandied about before being pulled to the mat, all without ever being able to release his grip.

Like any kind of te no uchi, this manipulation of an opponent even as he holds onto you involves a certain “knack” comprised of certain highly refined skills, techniques, and methods. The subtlety of these means that they do not lend themselves well to being learned in a short time, and for that reason — and also because our teachers rarely taught their principles in any kind of concrete terms — there are still very few people who have mastered them. But those who do manage to glean this understanding of how to work with te no uchi will find their understanding of Daito-ryu aiki techniques suddenly growing in leaps and bounds, to the extent that no matter where they are grabbed or touched, just a small bodily movement at the point of contact will allow them to effect a throwing or take-down technique without first having to free themselves from his grip. This use of te no uchi is an essential aspect of Daito-ryu and an important key for those striving to master it.

* chakin shibori, the practice of imprinting the surface of soft sweets (made from boiled, steamed, or grated ingredients like sweet potato, red bean, chestnut) with the grain of a flaxen tea cloth. The implication here is that squeezing too lightly will leave no imprint, while squeezing too hard will crush the sweet.