and Counterproductive Use of
Resistance in Aikido Training
four levels of training in Aikido were presented
in a previous Dragon Times article (vol. 5, p. 31).
These levels are:
2. Yawarakai (resilient)
3. Ki-no-nagare (flowing)
4. Ki (spirit)
is generally associated with ki-no-nagare technique,
and some persons train this way exclusively in an
almost dance-like manner. I personally consider
it unfortunate that a widespread public conception
of Aikido is based on this image.
To quote a passage from a book written my teacher,
Morihiro Saito Sensei (9th dan), entitled Traditional
Aikido Vol. 5, p. 36, "Aikido is generally
believed to represent circular movements. Contrary
to such belief, however, Aikido, in its true Ki
form, is a fierce art piercing straight through
the center of opposition."
It is vitally important to establish a solid foundation
in Katai technique before moving on to ki-no-nagare,
and to continue training Katai to prevent losing
touch with the basics. A person who is proficient
in Katai can easily learn ki-no-nagare, but a person
who has trained only ki-no-nagare will often not
be able to move at all if gripped strongly. Katai
training is what tunes a trainee into the reality
of physical strength and how to overcome it under
the worst possible conditions.
It is often said that Aikido techniques do not require
muscular strength to perform, and that it is not
"harmonious" to resist a training partner
who is attempting to perform a technique. Although
there is some truth to this statement, it is based
on an incomplete understanding of the nature of
physical power and resistance.
Beginners in Aikido rely on muscular strength to
overcome resistance. This is natural, and should
not be discouraged because it is all they have at
the time. As trainees progress, they become proficient
in technique, and less muscular strength becomes
necessary to overcome resistance.
In parallel, trainees develop kokyu-ryoku (abdominal
breath power) as a direct result of their physical
training. Kokyu-ryoku is much stronger than muscular
power, and eventually the techniques become almost
effortless, even against strong resistance.
After a number of years of hard and dedicated Katai
training, it becomes true that Aikido requires little
After a number of decades, it is possible to enter
level 4 (Ki) which is much stronger than kokyu-ryoku.
However, beginners should not think about this,
because they will only become frustrated.
Constructive resistance is not a break of harmony,
but on the contrary the ultimate in harmony because
trainees help each other to develop at the fastest
Senior trainees are paired with junior trainees
in basic training. Senior trainees, with their superior
knowledge, are able to provide the right amount
and direction of resistance so that the junior partner
must struggle to feel out how to overcome the resistance
and make the technique work. Junior trainees are
encouraged to resist senior partners with everything
they have (generally pure muscular power), so that
the senior trainees can hone their technique against
Although dance-like movements can be learned without
resistance, constructive resistance is necessary
to learn effective technique because without resistance
a trainee does not know if the technique is really
working. Constructive resistance provides the feedback
and guidance that are necessary to deal effectively
with the reality of physical strength.
In basic training, constructive resistance is applied
directly against the technique. At advanced levels,
constructive resistance can include uninhibited
attempts to escape or reverse the technique.
Resistance is only constructive if it results in
trainees growing and improving their technique and
spirit. The level of resistance must not be excessive,
because trainees will never learn techniques if
they are prevented from performing them. Preventing
a trainee from performing a technique is further
counterproductive in that it defeats self-confidence
The proper level of resistance is such that a trainee
is able to complete a technique with great difficulty.
This is also extremely good physical exercise, straining
many muscles of the body. Beginners, however, must
sometimes be given negative resistance such that
they are physically guided to perform the proper
Resistance is counterproductive if it is based on
egotism, or a desire to compete with, humiliate
or intimidate a training partner. Under no circumstances
should a training partner be deliberately injured
or subjected to a dangerous situation. The purpose
of constructive resistance is to help a training
partner learn effective technique, and counterproductive
resistance defeats this purpose.
In summary, Aikido does require little muscular
strength if it is learned correctly, and resistance
is not harmonious if it is applied counterproductively.
However, muscular power and constructive resistance
are vital elements in Aikido training, and constitute
stepping stones to higher levels.
About the Author: After graduating
from MIT, David Alexander spent ten years in Japan
training at the Iwama dojo of the much-respected
Morihiro Saito. A patent agent in Los Angeles, David
teaches traditional aikido at his dojo in Westlake
Village, California. The number is (818) 865-9151.