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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Counter Top and Box Koshinage Ukemi Exercises

Koshinage is a difficult technique to do well.  Usually, the feedback I had was that I was "too high" if I couldn't throw someone at all.  "Low enough" was not well defined, and while too low can still make for a good throw it affected my stability and my ability to move to sink past a point.  Dropping to hanmi handachi, mae sutemi or yoko sutemi are better choices if I end up that low to the ground.

When I was helping my wife get ready for her Sandan test, I came up with a few exercises that had me get a better sense of when I had someone underneath my center.  I had heard the phrase "Under Uke's Center" many times, but I never could clearly define it.  So, I wasn't able to help my wife get a good sense of what "proper hip placement" was.

In playing with these two exercises, I developed a much better sense of what is meant to be "Under My Center."  Then, I would take that into being Uke and I would make sure that the person I was practicing with got a good sense of what proper hip placement was by giving it to them.  With Nage experiencing proper hip placement, they were able to have a sense of how to refine their technique.  Otherwise, a good throw was an accident that happened all to infrequently and Nage could train for a long time without feeling good hip position.

The first exercise came out of some low level bouldering.  I am not a technical climber.  In trying to get up on a rock or over a fence, there is a point that what I identify as my center (two inches below my belly button) can be making contact with the surface, but my balance is still precarious and trying to fall backwards.  I spent some time at home with a counter top.

1.  If my legs hang down straight, this is a large portion of my body weight pulling me downwards.  I can't stretch my body out without falling backward.  For a person throwing me in this position, they are fighting my body weight wanting to go in the opposite direction they want to throw me in.
2.  If my legs are hanging straight, my legs anchor me in place.  A common bit of advice was to "extend more."  If my legs have anchored my body, Nage will have a huge amount of resistance if they try to extend my body further.

Both of these things mean koshinage will feel difficult.  Nage will probably get a sore shoulder and they may feel their balance is compromised as my body is moving with gravity against Nage.  To get my legs unachored, Nage needs to take a very aggressive and excessive twist which is harder on Nage's back and structure.

Nage will probably also need to use one arm against my legs to push my legs upwards.  I argue against practicing this as only simple Aikido koshinage allow for one arm to be free to be used in this manner.  O Goshi, Seoinage, Tenchinage and Ushiro Ryotekubidori styles all use both arms.  If the second arm is always rescuing a bad placement, you will never learn good hip placement and many koshinage variations will be beyond your ability.  Outside of practice in a real situation - do whatever you need to.

When I move forward just a few inches so that my thighs touch the counter, relaxing my legs doesn't pull me backward.  I can move my upper body in a number of different ways, and I won't fall backward.  I can pull myself forward very easily.  Now koshinage feels like much less force is involved.

The Counter Exercises


After getting a very clear sense of when I was fully on the counter top, I started to use an ottoman that was the width of my hips.  This is the width of the surface that I am learning to fall over when taking ukemi.

Again, when my legs hang straight, I am falling backwards and Nage will have to fight harder to do the throw.  I am difficult to move, and the throw is much harder to do.

1.  When my hips are forward enough for my thighs to be making contact, then I can be pushed or pulled forward much more easily.
2.  When I am in a good hip position, when I relax my legs and try to lower them my thighs push on the Nage's hips and I am propelled forward and over.

The Box Exercise


As Uke, when someone needed to use extra force just to achieve the throw, the fall was much more awkward.  When I was being thrown well, the fall was much easier to take.  Nage can pay more attention to how to make the throw safer and more comfortable for Uke when the load is correct.  Of course, when Uke is loaded well the fall can be made much more forceful as all the force and movement is working together in the same direction.  With a bad load, Nage is wasting a huge amount of effort that gravity is fighting.  Moving with gravity is always easier.

In other words, Uke needs to be willing to teach Nage what good hip placement feels like.  Otherwise, there is just years of happy accidents before Nage gets it right.  I have been told this is obvious, but the proof is in the practice - out of all the people I showed this to, when I watched their practice later maybe only one understood it.  Hopefully someone out there will get something out of this.

Ironically, the biggest barrier I had to teaching some students good hip placement is that they expect koshinage to feel like hard work. They expect forceful resistance and they expect to need to use huge amounts of strength. Of course, with Iriminage, Shihonage or Ikkyo they would never think such huge amounts of force and strain were correct. The first big barrier seems to be to get a student to accept that koshinage can be a highly refined, precise and relaxed technique that relies on structure, timing and placement like any other Aikido movement.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I'm struggling with koshinage at the moment. I don't think I'm getting low enough to get under ukes center as you describe. Any chance we could see a video of you doing koshinage with a partner?

  2. Thanks for the interest. Any particular attack or variation that is giving you trouble?

  3. Yes them all! No seriously, I can just about do it from ushiro ryote but everything else I just feel like I'm dragging uke around and sometimes they land so heavily on my hips that I just fall over! I see video clips of people doing it facing the same direction as uke feet quite close together and other times they seem to enter at 90 degrees and transfer their weight from one leg to the other. I like your concept of being far enough under their centre to make their momentum go forwards and was wondering how you do that in technique.