Kokyuho
(sokumen iriminage)

The aikido technique against several attacks


Kokyuho (also called sokumen iriminage) is one of the basic throwing techniques in aikido. The video above shows it against a number of grip and strike attacks. Explanations below.



       Kokyuho is one of the basic aikido techniques. The word simply means breath method, implying that it is an exercise in using your breath when making the throw. The often used name sokumen iriminage points out that it is done by entering from the side.

       It is fair to say that kokyuho is one of the kokyunage (breath throws) in aikido. The idea is to get stability and power from belly breathing, but also that the rhythm of the throw is that of breathing - in and out, receiving and extending.

       I have always practiced kokyuho very often, just about every aikido class I teach. Many other instructors do the same. This rather simple throw has a lot to teach, also about how to do the other aikido techniques. It's an application of the fundamentals, which are the same in all aikido techniques, throws as well as pinnings.

       So, practice kokyuho primarily as an exercise in breath and how to make your technique an expression of that breath. Of course, it should be the deep breath of the abdomen, originating in your center, tanden. You receive the attack in the spirit of inhaling (even if you don't actually inhale), and make the throw in the spirit of exhaling, expanding, sort of as if growing much bigger.

       Indeed, it is primarily a breathing exercise.

       Below, I say a few words about kokyuho against each of the attacks. First, the grips, and then the strikes, in the order of the video above. I haven't included every possible attack form, but all the major unarmed ones.


Gyakuhanmi katatedori

First on the video is kokyuho against gyakuhanmi katatedori, where the attacker grabs your wrist - left on right or right on left. It is one of the attacks against which the technique is most commonly practiced, because here it is fairly straightforward to do.

       As always in aikido, start with the evasive sideways taisabaki movement. At the same time you turn your hand, so the fingers point in the direction the attacker is aiming. That's the aiki joining of forces, which is necessary to be able to lead the way without too much resistance from the attacker - and to make it aikido.

       After joining the attacker's forward direction, momentarily, you can shift that direction without much effort. You do so 90° to the side, away from you. It is straight ahead for you in your new position, but sideways for the attacker. This is very important. If you don't lead the force sideways, you will just return the attacker to stability when going in for the throw. never lead the movement back to the partner, but to the side of him or her.

       Notice that both your arms are doing just about the same movement, although the attacker has grabbed but one of them. It's to remain centered and balanced, and to avoid trusting mere shoulder and arm force. It really helps you keep centered - with your arms properly in front of you, and your posture straight.

       At the throw, you open your arms wide and turn your whole torso, not just the upper part of it. Don't turn all the way to face the attacker anew. That just makes him or her resume stability. You should move the attacker as you turn, so that your center continues to point past the attacker's center, and not onto it. It's sort of like your body is searching for the attacker, but simultaneously the attacker is moved away from you, into the fall.

       You should make sure to have a stable position, feet wide apart and so on, at the end of the throw. Otherwise, the attacker might be able to pull you down with the wrist grip. Normally, attackers lose their grip when they fall, especially when kokyuho is done fast. But it's good to be prepared for the odd event of a remaining wrist grip.

       The whole kokyuho technique should be done in a generous spirit of showing the attacker the preferable outcome of the situation. Remember that it's a breathing exercise, and not just a way to throw people to the ground. Ideally, the attacker's breath and yours become joined in the process.

       On the video, I start by showing the kokyuho technique slowly, from gotai, a static position where the attacker has already grabbed the wrist firmly. Then I do it faster, sometimes right after the grip is completed and sometimes right before it is. The latter is the jutai tempo, softly joining and leading on before the attacker stops. There should be no change in how you do kokyuho. Whether gotai or jutai, it is the same. Only your timing and tempo differ.

       It is possible to do kokyuho very fast. But it can be done too fast. That's when the attacker gets hit in the head by your arm in the throw. It could be called an atemi (striking) version of the technique, but it's not a good choice for aikido practice.

       Most of what I have said about kokyuho here, regarding gyakuhanmi katatedori, is the same also for other attacks. So, I'll try to avoid repeating myself.


Aihanmi katatedori

Aihanmi katatedori (starting at 0:48 in the video above) is when the attacker grabs your wrist right to right or left to left. You stand with the same feet forward. The initial stance here is similar to that of the sword arts and striking arts like karatedo or boxing. That's why it is good to practice this relation frequently. In most martial arts, it's the preferred stance.

       I show two versions of kokyuho on this attack form. They only differ in the movement of the hand grabbed by the attacker. In the first version I simply turn my hand in the direction of the attack. In the second, I make a spiral move with my hand in order to lead the attacker's arm on.

       The second version is the one I usually do. It increases control of the attacker. You can quickly grab the wrist if the attacker lets go. That's more important in aihanmi than in gyakuhanmi, since you don't have your arm in the way of the attacker. So, you are more vulnerable to strikes at your body if the attacker suddenly lets go of the wrist grip. Compare kokyuho on gyakuhanmi and aihanmi, and you can see that difference.

       In the second version of kokyuho against aihanmi, it doesn't matter if the attacker tries to hold on to your wrist or not. The technique works anyway. Actually, it is very difficult for the attacker to keep the wrist grip in this version. You easily get free, merely by extending the movement forward.


Ryotedori

In ryotedori (starting at 1:35 in the video), the attacker grabs both your wrists. You do the kokyuho technique like in gyakuhanmi katatedori with one important exception:

       You can't move your hands on the same vertical level, because then you get blocked by the attacker's arms. One hand has to get above the other, until you are in a position for the throw. That also means it needs to make its circular move earlier than the other hand. It is quite visible on the video above.

       In the throw, though, your hands should be on the same vertical level, approximately. Otherwise you risk bringing the attacker back to balance. At the throw, you need to continue to extend one of the attacker's arms away from him or her.


Katadori

Katadori (starting at 2:25) is a shoulder grip. Notice that it should not be on the top of the shoulder, but by the upper arm. Otherwise the attacker can't stop you from striking at his or her body.

       There are many different solutions to kokyuho on the katadori grip, but I just show the one I feel the most comfortable with. I lead the attacker's arm in sort of a parry movement with the arm that is being grabbed. It can only be done if you start by a taisabaki evasive movement to the side, so that you are not blocking this direction with your own body.

       It's important that you do this warding off movement (harai) with your lower arm, and in a right angle to the attacker's arm. Otherwise your arm might slip down on the other side of the attacker's arm and you're stuck.

       You don't need to make this arm movement very big or forceful at all. It is mainly to get the attacker out of balance and to bend his or her arm, so that you can get in with your arm for the throw. When I do the kokyuho technique faster on the video, you can see how short that arm movement can be. It can be even shorter than that, but then it gets difficult to see what is done.


Ryokatadori

In ryokatadori (starting at 3:18), both shoulders - or more correctly, both upper arms - are grabbed. You can actually solve the kokyuho the same way you do in katadori. But the solution I show on the video is a good alternative, especially against very strong grips. I think it is also more common in the aikido world.

       As always, you start by going to the side, to get out of the line of attack. When you spin your body in between the attacker's arms, it is important to extend your hand in that direction before you enter with your head. Otherwise you might get a knee attack. Your hand wards off a knee on the way, or blocks it from reaching your head.

       To have room to enter between the attacker's arms, you raise one shoulder and lower the other. This creates a gap between the attacker's arms where you can enter.

       Make sure to get very close to the attacker before throwing, or your technique might get blocked.


Munedori

The munedori (starting at 4:16) collar grip on chest height can be complicated to handle with some aikido techniques - but not really with kokyuho.

       You do the technique much the same way as with katadori. Start with the taisabaki evasive move forward to the side, and give the attacker's arm a push forward where you also bend it. You must really turn sideways to open for this movement. It should be like opening a door and letting the attacker in.

       Especially in munedori, you need to stand steady at the throw, or the attacker can pull you down with the munedori grip. Normally, the grip will slip in the throw, especially if you do it fast, but it's better to be safe than sorry. So, stand straight with your feet wide apart at the end.

       Kokyuho is possible to do in gotai, from a static position. But the best is to do it jutai, before the attacker's grip is completely applied. You see that being done in some of the fast versions on the video.


Morotedori (katate ryotedori)

Morotedori (starting at 5:13), often called katate ryotedori, is a two-handed grab on your lower arm. Many do this attack right in front of tori, the defender, but that's pointless as an attack. The attacker would in this case occupy both his arms by holding just one of yours, making you free and in position to strike with your other arm. So, uke, the attacker, should take a position behind tori, out of reach of such a counter attack. That's how the attack is done in this video.

       In this position, the attacker has quite a good control of tori, and can act to interrupt many kinds of counter attacks.

       Therefore, you need to be swift with your entering move, whatever aikido technique you make, so that the attacker has little time to counter it. Basically, you need to start by get the attacker in front of you.

       That's what I do with the spiral arm movement in the beginning of the technique. That spiral continues into the throw.

       Since a two-handed grip is quite solid and steady, you really need to get the attacker out of balance. You do that by extending the forward movement by which you lead the attacker on. Don't try the throw before the attacker is well out of balance.

       Also, it is very important that you don't move your arm back towards the attacker in the throw, but sort of aim to the other side of him or her. You make the technique three-dimensional instead of two-dimensional. You should always do so with kokyuho, but it is particularly important in morotedori, since this grip can be quite strong and stable.


Ushiro ryotedori

Ushiro ryotedori (starting at 6:23) is the double wrist grab from behind. There are many solutions to kokyuho on this attack form, but I have different degrees of trust in them. The solution I show on the video is the one I have the most faith in. Also, it can be applied to practically all kinds of grips from behind.

       To get out of this grab, you must start moving one of your hands in front of you. You can't just pull it forward if the attacker is strong, you need to use your body. You turn the body sideways and put your hand on your hip. Then you can bring the hand forward by turning your body back again. That way, it's your whole body against one arm of the attacker. It should work.

       As you move your hand forward and upward, you spin your body around, stepping over to the other side of the attacker. Don't stay in front, or there can be counters. Also, you need to do this part of the technique rather swiftly, moving your arm and body at the same time, or there is a risk that the attacker shifts to kubishime, a choke grip.

       Make sure to get your throwing arm under that of the attacker. Otherwise your throw can be easily blocked. Also, make sure you extend both your arms in opposite directions, as shown on the video, to get the attacker properly out of balance. You can do this by using spiral hand movements, avoiding the strength of the hand grips by sort of moving around them. These spiral movements of the hands are a bit tricky, but I hope they are clearly visible on the video.


Ushiro ryokatadori

In ushiro ryokatadori (starting at 7:33) you are grabbed in both shoulders from behind. As I said about katadori, the grip is not on top of the shoulder, but on the upper arm. That gives the attacker much better control.

       The kokyuho solution is much like that on ryokatadori from the front, explained above. But there is one important difference. In ushiro, you need to get under both arms of the attacker, not in between them. Otherwise, you get stuck in a new hold, which is much trickier to get out of. A skilled attacker can easily turn that hold into a choke.

       Both the first and the second arm enter under the attacker's arms before your head does. That's needed to avoid a knee attack to your head.

       By tilting your shoulders and making extended movements with your arms and hands, you can make it easier to pass under the attacker's arms.

       Make sure to be really close to the attacker when making the throw, or it can be blocked.


Katatedori kubishime

The katatedori kubishime (starting at 8:54) is a choke from behind. It is usually just called kubishime, the choke. Katatedori specifies that it is combined with a wrist grip. This is the most common choke attack practiced in aikido. Of course, there are many more, but they can usually be treated the same way as certain other grab attacks treated regularly in aikido practice.

       The wrist grab has two functions: stopping the defender from using the grabbed arm in a strike or some other counter move, and also helping to hold the defender stuck in that position, making it hard to move away or spin around.

       So, the first problem to deal with is not the choke, but the wrist grab.

       But first a practical tip: Tori, the defender, should try to have the chin in the direction of the attacker's elbow. That's to avoid too much pressure against the front of the neck, which is more sensitive than the sides (not counting the very effective artery chokes used in judo, which are mainly applied from the front). In regular aikido training against katatedori kubishime, it is the safest to try to have your chin in the direction of the attacker's elbow.

       You need to get your grabbed arm in front of you. This is done much the same way as in ushiro ryotedori above. But here you have to be more flexible in the hips, since you can't turn your head at this point. Twist your hip to get your hand on it, and then turn your hip back at the same time as you move your hand forward and upward. Spin your whole body around to get out of the choke. Your arm continues under the attacker's arm and extends for the throw.

       With kubishime, it's important that you don't try to bend forward at all. That just makes you more stuck in the choke. Instead, keep your body close to the attacker, the closer the better. That also makes the choke less effective. Not until you have spun around and freed yourself from the choke can you move your whole body freely.

       You don't need to bother about the attacker's choking arm at all. That takes care of itself when you go around for the throw. But stand steady at the end, so you don't get pulled down if the attacker has grabbed your collar in the choke grip.


Chudan tsuki

The chudan tsuki (starting at 10:18) strike to the body is usually called oitsuki chudan in karatedo. Chudan means middle level, which is in this attack usually to the solar plexus. Since it is a strike, there is not really a gotai static way of training against it, but it is important to practice it slow as well as fast, in order to learn the aikido technique properly.

       You can do kokyuho on either side of the attacker - that of the striking arm or the other. It is a little easier on the side of the striking arm, which is why this is practiced the most in aikido. It's the one I show on the video. But try both. Striking attacks are quick and difficult to predict.

       I start with the taisabaki evasive step to the side at the same time as I make kind of a parry, a warding off, in the direction of the strike. It is not a block. Rather, you sort of push the strike along. It helps getting the attacker out of balance and gives you a little extra time for the follow-up.

       Many people practice aikido techniques against strikes without doing any parry or block at all. I'm not sure that's wise. You leave your body quite open. Remember that the forward strike can also be armed, with a knife or so. Then it is better to risk getting your arm wounded than your torso. So, it's preferable to have a reflex of using your arms when warding off strike attacks.

       Still, the taisabaki movement out of the way is the most important. In every aikido technique, you should always start with that.

       Notice on the video that my parry, harai, actually moves in the direction of the strike and not against it. I sort of push the attack on. Otherwise it would just slow me down and make it easier for the attacker to strike again. And I use the lower arm, not the hand. Your hand is easily hurt in a parry, especially your fingers. Also, it is smaller than the lower arm, so there is a greater risk that it misses its target.

       Don't aim for the attacker's fist when you do the warding off. It is very easy to miss. Go for the arm. Also, it will get the attacker more out of balance than if you hit the hand.

       Notice the role of my other arm in the kokyuho technique. It protects against the striking arm as the attacker is thrown. You don't want it in your face, especially if it holds a knife.

       It is possible to do the kokyuho technique faster than I show on the video, much faster. But that's not recommendable in regular aikido practice, since it can lead to the attacker getting hurt.


Jodan tsuki

Jodan tsuki (starting at 11:01), the strike to the head, is usually called oitsuki jodan in karatedo. There is really no time to be sure if the strike aims for the head or lower, when it is as quick as it can be. Therefore, the defense against jodan tsuki should also work on chudan tsuki, and vice versa.

       The warding off, harai, is in the direction of the strike, not against it. Also, it pushes the attacker's arm down in a curved movement. That breaks the attacker's balance and makes it possible to enter above his or her guard.

       As with the warding off of chudan tsuki, don't go for the attacker's fist, but the arm. And use your other arm to protect against the striking arm of the attacker in the throw.


Shomen uchi

Shomen uchi (starting at 11:46) is a vertical strike similar to that done with a sword, but the aikido techniques should work against any kind of vertical strike. In aikido practice, it is mainly seen as an empty-handed version of the sword attack. A blow to the top of the forehead is not likely to do much harm with a bare hand, so a weapon is still implied.

       Such a strike with the two-handed katana is very powerful, indeed, so it's not wise trying to block it. What you see on the video is not a block, not even a warding off harai. It's a way to take contact with the striking arm and lead it on, into the aikido technique.

       Some people make no such arm movement at all, but simply enter for the throw directly. I wouldn't recommend it. As I said about chudan tsuki above, it is better to risk the arms than the torso, and it is good to get reflexes that involve arm movements instead of just letting them hang by your sides when the attack comes.

       Still, of course, the taisabaki evasive movement is the most important. Start with that.

       Just as with the tsuki attacks, you use your other arm to protect against the attacker's striking arm in the throw.

       By the way, about the attack, I often see aikido students shifts hands as they move in for the shomen uchi strike. That would not do if you hold a sword. Shifting front hand would make you hit yourself with the sword. Try it and you'll see, but do it carefully... So, the hand that's in front when you start is also the hand you strike with.


Yokomen uchi

Yokomen uchi (starting at 12:42) is a strike to the side of the head. This can be done with some effect also with the bare hand, as with shuto or tettsui strikes in karatedo. Still, in aikido a weapon like the sword or a knife is implied. That's why the striking move of the arm is done more in line with the Japanese sword technique than as in karatedo. Mainly, the angle is closer to vertical than to horizontal. But the aikido techniques should work against both.

       You start by entering close to the attacker in a taisabaki evasive movement to the side. You need to be close, not to get hit by the striking hand even if you are unable to block it.

       But you also make a warding off movement with your arm. It's not a block. It doesn't aim to stop the strike, which is both difficult and a waste of time. It extends the attack forward in the attackers direction, bringing him or her out of balance. It's done with a circular motion.

       At the same time, your other hand makes a similar circular movement that ends with an atemi to the attacker's face. Normally, a strike is not intended, but a distraction and protection from additional moves by the attacker. So, you stop in front of the attacker's face in stead of hitting it. Correctly done, this causes more of a distraction than just hitting, which would make the attacker act immediately with some counter move. Well, a proper strike has its advantages, too. But in regular training, you should not hit the attacker's face. Keep the hand there, blocking the attacker's view and diminishing his or her options.

       Then you make an arm movement guiding the attacker's arm down and out. It's really an aikido version of the karatedo gedan barai block. It works the best if you do it in an accelerating way. It should start by the attacker's elbow, and not down by the hand. Otherwise you might not get the arm to move much at all.

       Make sure you get out of the way of the attacker's hand, as you sweep it down and to the side. The body turn you make for that purpose also brings force and speed to your arm movement.

       As with the previous strikes, use one arm to protect against the attacker's striking hand when you go in for the throw.



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