This section has rooting and off-balance exercises in it. If you lose your root, you can be thrown, so
learning how (and later when) to be connected to the floor is essential. All of these suppose that you
are familiar with the eight directions of movement.
Happo no sabaki, eight directional movement drill
This means "movement in eight directions" and is a fundamental footwork
drill. It is simple in its most basic form: Just step into each of the eight directions, going into
a stance. You should step with same foot same side, so if you are going to the left,
you lead with your left foot. Your trailing foot should not ever have to pivot more
than 90 degrees in this version of the drill.
More advanced variations are as follows.
Finally, you should practice the drill using different patterns. For instance, do the
drill stepping as follows:
- You can step through the entire circle with one foot. This will force you to pivot, for
instance, if you step to seven o'clock leading with your right foot, this requires a large
- You can step as per the basic drill but pivot 180 degrees to face where you were standing.
Attackers are trying to get to where you were, so this is a simple way to avoid an attack and
be prepared to counter.
- You can step using the opposite foot. This will always invove a pivot. So stepping
to the left leading with the right foot, for instance.
12 - 6 - 3 -7 - 1 - 9 - 11 - 5
This is an excellent drill since it forces you to move through several different angles.
You should also practice stepping and doing other techniques (striking, blocking, fit-ins for a throw etc.)
once your footwork feels comfortable. This is more than busy work, it is doing the vital work of getting
your feet and hands independent.
Happo no kuzushi, eight direction off-balancing
This means off-balancing in 8 directions. This refers to moving your opponent into a direction
until you feel their balance break. There are many ways to do this. Here are some suggestions.
- (the authentically classical way) Have uke grab both your wrists and hold on for dear
life. Perform aiki nage into eight directions following whatever push or pull you feel
- Grab uke's lapels. As you do your stepping drill draw or push uke into the direction
you are stepping.
- From a single wrist grab, pulling uke is about all you can do without some other technique,
so pivot if need be to always pull uke.
- Off a straight punch or haymaker, practice pinning your elbow to your side when you need to
pull uke and pinning his elbow to his side when you need to push him. You can also practice passing
This is an exercise you should practice at home. Simply drop into a
stance, facing a wall. Put the palm of your hand on the wall and statically
push. Find the path and root. Concentrate on being stable and think of
pushing upwards at about 45 degrees into the wall. This forces you
to rotate your pelvis ("hara to the heavens", i.e., try to point
your navel towards the ceiling).
Vary the height of the wall push. Push at face level, midriff and hip
level. Each of these requires small adjustments to your structure. Remember that
root is a function of both force and angle!
You striking will actually only be as good as the structure behind it. This is
consequently an extremely useful drill as well for getting solid striking, plus
it can be a very good isometric exercise to build the power needed to strike. This
does not replace practicing striking, but should be remembered as an adjunct to it.
If you practice striking and find low power or that you lose your balance, practice
pushing on walls for a bit. You're apt to see an improvement.
This is one of our most useful basic exercises. The idea is simple. You need to be stable in
your stances so you should practice moving people. We do this in stages. This does a couple
of things. First of all, it allows you to find what your body alignment and geometry must
be in order to be stable. This varies considerably for different people and cannot be
practiced really in any other way. Secondly, this allows you to move a large object, which
will train and stengthen the muscles needed for powerful striking. This is not a drill
that will give you a usable technique by itself, but will make your techniques usable.
All of this is to get you to be able to really use one of our most effective techniques, hakko zeme.
The basic exercise is to have each person in a front stance. Uke places his hands on tori's
hips and locking the elbows. Tori grabs uke's forearms and keeps them pinned. This is to give
tori as direct a connection as possible to uke's center, so tori doesn't have to fish for it.
Uke slowly tries to push tori over. Tori's center of gravity should drop until fully stable.
The upper body is erect and the feeling should be relaxed. Stay in this position for 30 seconds,
then switch roles. Your first goal is that as uke pushes on you, you can find where you are
stable. Vary the height of the push, so that uke pushes then at the bottom of the rib cage and then at
the shoulder. Be sure that you feel stable with the push at the hips first.
The reason we push on the hips is that we are trying to remove as many joints as possible from
the exercise. This is the most direct path possible from tori's hips to the ground. As uke
moves the push higher, more joints are pulled into play. This allows tori to start with
a firm base and then modify it as needed.
Finally, have uke raise his bent arms and push right on his elbows. Once you have this down,
you are ready to practice the kata meaningfully. Comment: The kata for this technique
is really hard, but once you can do it you own this technique. It's a bit frustrating but well
worth the effort. Most applications of hakko zeme
are pretty easy and direct.
Things to watch out for
To step, tori must disrupt uke's structure. This is done by projecting upwards at 45 degrees and lifting
one of uke's shoulders. When uke's structure is moved, tori steps through smoothly.
- Neither uke nor tori should lean. Use good stances.
- Start out without too much force. If you are both rooting well, you are able
to push with as much force as if you were doing a squat -- somewhere around 2 or 3
times your body weight. With your weight and uke's force this can
easily top 1200 lbs. Part of the stepping motion means you end up doing a one-legged
squat with 1200 lbs. Aside from having your leg collapse and ending up on the floor in
a big hurry, you can be astonishingly sore the next day. Doubly so if you are not getting
the bones to transmit the forces to the floor, but trying to muscle your opponent.
As your form improves, the load will travel naturally down the bones and this won't
be an issue, but early on you should be aware of this, especially if there is a
size difference between the partners. On the other hand, if you want to develop
really powerful leg muscles, this is an exercise that is hard to beat.
- This is not bad sumo! Your job as uke is to let tori figure out to position the hips, legs etc.
so as to be stable, not to see who can bulldog whom to the ground. I'll tell it to you right
now, for the first several months you do this, uke will always win, now that this is
out of the way, go practice!
A final comment on people's comfort level. Some people do not like having their hips or chests touched.
(Hey it's their body, deal with it.) You
can still do this drill in such instances by simply using the bent arms as described above.
This just describes the front stance. You can vary this in the following ways.
- Pulling on the person and having them simply practice being stable, or even retreating.
- Other stances. Normally this takes a bit of work since your orientation always changes
for each step. Backstance works easiest.
- For horse stance, your partner must be attentive to pushing or pulling and
switch the point of application as needed.
- Simply rooting as your partner walks the circle around you and tries to push on
you from various angles. There will be weak angles, so uke will always win,
but knowing where a stance is weak is very good information.
- Tori should progress to having the arms away from the body in various postures, such as blocking and
striking and letting uke push on these to check the paths.