Atemi and Kiai Waza

osensei_atemi003 Friday (01/23/2009) in class we worked on atemi waza incorporated into our techniques. I personally do this a lot when I employ my Aikido as it feels natural and I always have in my mind that I don’t want my partner to focus on what I am doing to them, but for them to be mentally off balance and focus on something else.

I have seen atemi waza used different ways. These can be from just a second thought and just brushing the surface of the techniques to more of using the atemi to actually strike your opponent. From reading Osensei’s original book and a lot of references on the web I believe that he used this technique to mentally off balance or “disrupt your partners ki” so as to not have to fight power on power. Furthermore, before they get their mental balance back you would have already executed the technique and either thrown them or pinned them with otoshi waza.

I feel to actually strike with the fist (not that it is wrong) is not Aikido and that is not what we practice Aikido to learn and execute. I do feel that we should learn how to strike though. We should learn how to strike so that when we practice we know how to employ a proper attack so that our partner knows the feeling of what it is like to be punched at, and also what you need to do against this attack.

In class we focused on two types of this off balance. One is the traditional atemi that we have been talking about where we make the mental and physical beginnings of a strike towards our partner which focus them on the strike and not the other part of the technique. Here depending on the technique your atemi should not just be a subtle action, but a strong movement with the mental feeling that you actually would strike them. This mental “zanshin” can in itself move your partner if done right. Maybe not a lot, but just enough that they are moving in a certain direction and then you piggy back with that energy and follow it to the end of the technique.

The second type of off balance is though your voice and kiai. The kiai can be thought of as a combat shout. This loud noise is now from your throat, but from your center or stomach. I have heard the saying “Fukushiki Kokyuho” to explain the kiai. One example (of many) is when you are employing a Nikyo ura technique and you feel resistance. If you focus your zanshin and kiai at that moment your partner may forget about the resistance. The key then is to continue with your motion in the moment when you kiai. This is just one example, and there are many of opening movements that you can blend with a kiai. If done right the person can be mentally off balanced the whole technique. It is a powerful tool if used correctly.

When I was practicing Kendo every day would be an exercise in matching (Awase) the voice and the body.
When you use it a lot you can really see and feel how these two are linked together if practiced. Once during a Kendo match (we were both fairly new at Kendo), I kiai’ed very loudly and shifted my head and body at same time just a bit. My opponent felt this and jumped back and out of the ring. It only worked once, but is one example. Of course a more seasoned person could also use that against me also, but that is why we should continue to practice to master this.

osensei_atemi002 A lot of schools do not kiai at all and I believe is a shame. It is strange when you see this and almost no sound is coming out of people. Not that you should be shouting and kiai all the time, but there is a time and place to practice these skills.

Your Kiai and Atemi waza is just a few tools in your Aikido tool box that you practice and experiment with in your daily practice. What are some of your ideas and/or experiences with either Kiai or Atemi?

Andrew Blevins

ps. I will be adding some links when I get some time to other articles on this subject.

Comments (4)

Val LittfinJanuary 30th, 2009 at 4:34 am

Blevins Sensai,
I so appreciate your writings and explanations. The Kiai and Atemi waza is a most intersting read – the detail is much beyond my abilities, however, it is most interesting to see the possibilites from the eyes of a skilled aikidoist.
Respectfully, Val

Kara StewartFebruary 6th, 2009 at 12:10 am

This is a great post, Sensei. I’m working on bringing a much greater level of intensity to my atemi and kiai, as both are lacking in intent and “ferocity” or seriousness. It’s like the energy inside doesn’t match the energy outside.

Thankfully I have very good role models, and I will keep working on this.

Is kuzushi (not sure I spelled that right) related to atemi or kiai waza?


adminFebruary 7th, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Basically kuzushi is unbalancing. The direction of energy and use that energy back into a thrown. Here is a wikipedia entry of kuzushi (

adminFebruary 7th, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Val, Thansk for your comments. Keep coming back to the site. Always good to hear ideas from other people.

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