Spiral Questions

A TrueAiki.comreader asked the following questions:

[Regarding] “The spiral locking of uke.

Is this intended to have a learning effect on the body ?

O’sensei’s ukes were also the best teachers he produced.

They were also the people who were locked by him the most.

Does the spiral locking in some way activate the body to produce more aiki ?”

These are great questions to which I hope to provide thoughtful answers:

Question #1:  “Is this intended to have a learning effect on the body?”


Taichi Spiral        I suspect that,, the spiraling of others on contact was an unintended outcome of the spiraling of one’s self, which was a product of creating Aiki within one’s body. This unintended outcome was likely noted by martial exponents as a desirable byproduct because such motion solidifies another’s body by winding it up, and therefore promoting destabilization of the untrained body. Physical spiraling also, is a very effective form of dismemberment as an outcome of sheer forces which can arise. Consider how one de-limbs an animal carcass. There are other helpful byproducts that were likely viewed as valued combative outcomes.

Inadvertent effects on others becomes more of an issue as one becomes developed.  What once were valued outcomes can now be a potential danger that must be considered and nullified to protect others.  Ueshiba sensei seems to have solved this problem by making sure that, when contacting others, his strongest forces were vectored horizontally and spirals were large and elongated, enabling uke to to dissipate the force over a distance.  One can observe developed Chinese practitioners doing the same.  Okamoto sensei seems to have solved the problem by making his expressions of force minimal and brief.  This again allowed his partner to respond by dissipating the force albeit in a different fashion.  Some solve the problem of injuring others by contracting and diminishing the amount of force generated and dissipated through uke. It is important to note that in these cases the inherent danger is not a “deadly” technique, but the amount of force expressed.

Question #2:  “O’sensei’s ukes were also the best teachers he produced.

They were also the people who were locked by him the most.

Does the spiral locking in some way activate the body to produce more aiki ?”


Inoue Yoichiro 1929

I’ve switched my answer from “teachers” to “technicians and developing Aiki.” As a skill set, these are very different skills from teaching. I would argue that the individuals who were likely the best technicians Ueshiba Morihei produced, and also most likely to learn Aiki and how to develop it from him were those that trained with Ueshiba when he was becoming “O-sensei.” This was approximately from when Takeda Sokaku left Ayabe until Ueshiba moved from Tokyo to Iwama.

Why do I assert this?  Not because these students were locked by Ueshiba the most, but for other reasons.

Takeshita Isamu

The most overlooked reason that these individuals became so skilled was because Ueshiba wasn’t fully matured in his own training yet. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes complete sense if one considers that, with Aiki, as one progresses, the essential elements of what one is doing becomes less and less obvious.  Why? Because Aiki is invisible!  There needn’t be visible movement for Aiki to be present, in the same way that internal combustion needn’t be visible for a car to drive. As one develops Aiki there is less and less need or cause for visible movement.  There is almost always outward physical movement present in those learning and developing Aiki.*


Tomiki Kenji

It is because Aiki doesn’t have to be accompanied by visible form, it becomes much more difficult to figure out what it is. Even when one is told, guided, given models, etc., learning Aiki is difficult.  One can only see what is visible.  One can only hear what is audible.  Aiki is neither.  It is also due to this, it was easy for individuals to confuse outward forms with Aiki, or written and spoken teachings with Aiki.  That these misunderstandings of what Aiki is became what was most commonly taught and promoted as Aiki makes understanding all the harder.  Although, if this misunderstanding and promotion hadn’t occurred the idea of Aiki would again be likely unknown to most.


Mochizuki Minoru

Seeing an outward form and receiving instruction is no guarantee that one will

Kunigoshi Takako & Yonezawa Shigemi

understand what Aiki is, how to develop Aiki, or will develop Aiki.  But outward form, coupled with explanation at least provides a chance.  Again, when this is coupled with occasional failure, it provides an opportunity for one to experience and comprehend the outward movement’s relationship to inward happenings, what one’s teacher is talking about, and what “right” feels like vs “wrong.”  The more “right” one becomes, the less one can produce “wrong” even if one tries.


Shirata, Ueshiba, Iwata
Shirata Rinjiro, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, Iwata Hajime

Who was present during this time of training is another significant factor influencing the development of these individuals. When Ueshiba was actively teaching, several students were experienced martial artists. For a period, one of the best Kendoka in Japan was Ueshiba’s adopted son-in-law, heir apparent, and fellow student.  Also, visiting guest senseis were many of the best in the land.  This was certain to have influenced the training.  Visiting Daito Ryu practitioners wouldn’t have been

Nakakura Kiyoshi

unwelcome or seen as “different” and several of Ueshiba’s students met, and some trained under, Takeda Sokaku when he showed up.  Some like to point to Shioda sensei’s later encounters with Kodo Horikawa as proof that Shioda hadn’t learned Aiki from Ueshiba.  That is a moot point.  The technical and organizational divisions present today didn’t exist back then.  What was taught was the same.   The differences leading to divisions were more interpersonal than technical.

Practical functionality was imperative. One can see this expressed in Tomiki sensei’s letter to Admiral Takeshita. His primary concern with Judo was that, in his estimation, it wasn’t combatively practical and he traced the flaw to the sportive aspect adopted into Judo. Tomiki considered what he learned from Ueshiba to be an exemplar of practical applicability in combat.  Post war, Tomiki had a falling out with Ueshiba sensei due to his efforts to add a sporting aspect into Aikido . . . times change.

Shioda Gozo

Ueshiba’s training during this time was rigorous and focused towards application as well. He took a jukken in the ribs permanently injuring them while training with multiple attackers. Happily they weren’t using real jukken!  According to several stories, more than once, the soldiers he trained at the time “jumped” their teacher to test his metal. When one is going off to die for the Emperor, it is nice to know that one’s teacher knows what he is talking about. It was a very, very different time when compared to post-war Japan.

        There were many other notable students of Ueshiba Morihei from this time not shown here who were equally remarkable individuals, each making highly significant contributions and having unique accomplishments!

These individuals became who they were for the aforementioned reasons, not because they were the most often pinned by Ueshiba.

All of that having been said, I think that taking ukemi for Ueshiba Morihei provided a benefit. For example, one could feel the difference between him and one’s training partners. This gave his students the opportunity to figure out he (Ueshiba) was doing something different from others, even though the outward form looked identical.  To experience this was to cross over threshold from what one believed was happening, to what one experienced happening.

         It was the same experience that led top kenjutsuka, jujutsuka, and Sumotori from looking at Ueshiba and thinking, “Wow! THAT is unimpressive.” to feeling him and thinking, “Wow! What just happened?”

Once the cognitive barrier is crossed, one is left to figure out what did “just happen.” And, I argue, that it was likely easier to figure that out while Ueshiba was figuring it out.

Here is one last explanation for why I think Ueshiba’s students were likely his most proficient and likely to develop Aiki. Ueshiba knew he would, not only be judged by what he could do but also by what his students could do. He knew there would be challenges to his own dojo, and that as he sent his surrogates out to teach they too would be challenged. He was still making a name for himself, so it was imperative to the success of his venture he and others represent well. That influenced who, what, and how, he taught.

When it comes to spiraling others to inculcate Aiki in them I present the following analogy:

I can put a wire (uke) in my drill and use it like a drill bit and make it spiral because it deforms. Or I can put a drill bit in my drill and it will bore through wood, stone, and metal because that which it touches deforms.

         Ueshiba didn’t put “wires” into his drill to turn the “wires” into drill bits. His students had the experience of being spiraled. But that is not what transformed them into “drill bits” and/or “drills.” Ueshiba’s careful selection of the right stock, purposeful shaping, proper tempering, and ongoing sharpening did that.** And when Takeda Sokaku took Ueshiba Morihei as a student, Takeda did the same.

We want to become the drill and drill bit.

So, to sum up, there are outward spirals that can produce Aiki-like effects. Some Aikido, Daito Ryu, and other martial arts use this proto-Aiki and it can be quite effective.  Then there is Aiki that manifests as spirals within the self which can manifest as visible movements (or not.) Few Aikido, Daito Ryu and other martial artists do this. We want the latter.


  • There is a world of difference between those that can have an effect with little to no visible movement and those that fake it.  Just as there is a world of difference between being able to have an effect with little to no visible movement and being able to prevail in combat.

** Tempering, shaping and sharpening often does involve spiraling.  But passively being spiraled is not the same thing.  I’ll address this in my next answer to a question post!

Even at my current level of development the fact that a difference between the feel of normal technique and Aiki can felt was brought home by my son.  While waiting for an appointment, my son and I were messing around with a bunch of rare earth magnets on a table. Feeling the magnetic repulsion of the magnets my son surprised me by exclaiming, “Dad, that’s it! That’s what it feels like when I push on you!”

For years now my son and I have had an ongoing agreement.  He can push on me as hard as he likes, pretty much anytime he likes.  He can do surprise pushes, running body slams, whatever.  The goal is just to move me.  If I take a step, he wins.  If I don’t, I “win.” Over the years we’ve grown together.  He’s gotten bigger, stronger, and trickier.  For my part, I’ve done my best to have my Aiki development keep up with the challenge.  So, to me, this was high praise from one of my harshest critics! 

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