Aikido Inks

Stylized Drawings in a Shodo Calligraphy Manner

I am very fond of Japanese calligraphy (shodo) and have tried it some. Now, I had the idea of doing shodo style representations of aikido techniques. You find some of them below.

       In Japan as well as China, using an ink brush to make expressive writing of the pictograms (kanji) is an art form all of its own. Many Japanese aikido teachers — Osensei, too — have done the same, as part of their spiritual and artistic practice. Miyamoto Musashi, the famous samurai, also recommended it.

       The imagery of each kanji contains its own etymology, so studying them is a fascinating exploration of Far Eastern traditional thought, which is certainly what any calligrapher would ponder when putting the brush on the paper.

       I've done some of that, as can be seen here and there on my webpages. On this page, though, I show some of my experiments in using the same technique and style as in shodo, but for representing aikido techniques. I let the brush move in figures that I regard as the essentials of each aikido technique. So, the ink drawings become symbols of the techniques, stylized versions of what they look like.

       In that way, I guess they can be said to be pictograms as well.

Ikkyo Omote

Ikkyo Omote. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Ikkyo Omote. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Of course I started with ikkyo, the first technique in aikido. It's represented by a yielding backwards curve followed by a forward extension of that same curve, the big ikkyo movement. In my mind and my practice, that curve is an ellipse, not a circle. so are most movements in aikido that may seem circular at first glance.

       The ink brush continues downward and finishes with a horizontal line, which is the end pinning of the ikkyo technique.

       Notice that this is ikkyo omote. Ura would need to be drawn quite differently. Omote and ura are quite far apart in ikkyo, also when represented in this symbolized way. That's because ikkyo is the primary technique, lacking the particulars of the techniques that follow — nikyo, sankyo and yonkyo.


Nikyo. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Nikyo. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Next is nikyo, which also commences with a curve, but this time to lead the attacker into the wrist lock. The downward vertical line is the application of the nikyo wrist pressure, bringing the attacker down. It's a firm line, indicating the firmness (and pain) of the technique.

       There is more happening in nikyo after the wrist lock pressure, but the ink representation stops here, since this is the most significant part of nikyo. I beet every aikido practitioner would agree.


Sankyo. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Sankyo. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Sankyo is the third aikido technique, also according to its name. I find it to consist of two major curves — a small one where the twisting of the attacker's wrist is done, and a bigger second curve where the attacker is led to the floor by the control of that twisted wrist.

       I find the two curves to be present and quite similar in both omote and ura. So, this ink drawing can be either one.


Kokyuho. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Kokyuho. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Among the aikido throws, kokyuho is probably the most basic one. I practice it a lot and have done so ever since the years with my first Japanese teacher, Toshikazu Ichimura, who also favored it. Its ink brush representation becomes quite basic, too — starting with a small movement that is practically horizontal, joining with the attacker's direction, and then a big curve that is the actual throw. That curve returns to the attacker, as the throwing movement does.

       The horizontal start is not exactly a straight line, or its movement would be broken when the big curve commences. It has to have a spiral quality, let's call it a prelude to the big circle to come. That's essential in making kokyuho blend with the force of the attack.


Kokyunage. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Kokyunage. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Kokyunage, the breath throw, is natural to follow its more basic cousin kokyuho. But the movement of kokyunage is quite different also when represented by brush strokes. The long vertical line is the joining in the start of the technique, where tori and uke are joined deep in the core of the dynamics — actually in tori's center (tanden). That's the heavy black dot at the bottom of the line.

    In that center, the flow transforms and becomes the almost explosive curve beginning drastically outwards, almost upwards, but returning at the end. Kokyunage is not throwing away the attacker, but both participating in that big curve leading both back, like coming home after a long and adventurous journey.


Iriminage. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Iriminage. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Iriminage, a favorite among many aikidoka, has some similarities with kokyunage when represented by brush strokes. There's a vertical line and a big returning curve. But the iriminage throw sort of takes place around the center instead of out from it. That's why it encloses the vertical line on the drawing.

       I see iriminage as sort of spinning uke around tori's central line, much like vine grows around the trunk of a tree. So, it's a closed circuit. Not completely, though, or the energy of the attack would remain. That's why the curve doesn't close completely.


Kaitennage. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Kaitennage. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Kaitennage is more complicated than the throws above. There is an initial curve leading the attacker into the techinque, which continues with what's pretty much a straight line — diagonal, making the attacker crouch — and then a big curve that is the actual throw. This curve crosses the straight line or the attacker would not get stuck in the technique.

       I had great trouble with this drawing, making a lot of them before settling for one to post on this webpage. I'm still not that happy with it. On the other hand, I'm not completely at peace with the kaitennage technique either. It's that crossing of the line that bothers me. Conflict is hiding there. And force.

       Maybe I just need to practice the technique more, until I find a way to draw it in a manner I'm pleased with.


Tenchinage. Ink brush drawing by Stefan Stenudd.
Tenchinage. Ink brush drawing. Click the image to see it enlarged.

Tenchinage was no complication to draw with ink. Heaven and earth, two opposite directions emerging from the center of tori — but turning towards one another way out there. It may take time before they actually meet, but they're heading for it. Heaven and earth must meet.

       What the two directions open is the gap to a fountain. Once tenchinage is commenced, there's no limit to how much it can express or how far it can reach. A giant mouth opens and swallows all in its way, until it closes again. Big bang followed by a future big crunch. The simplicity of the brush strokes reveals the fundamental process the aikido technique utilizes. Like a bellows.

I may add more ink brush versions of aikido techniques in the future, but this is enough for now. I enjoyed it, and I hope you did, too.

Stefan Stenudd

My Aikido Books

Click the images to see the books at Amazon (paid link).
Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles
Basic Concepts of the Peaceful Martial Art. The basic principles, philosophy and traditional budo concepts in aikido.
More about the book here.

Attacks in Aikido, by Stefan Stenudd. Attacks in Aikido
How to do kogeki, the attack techniques. All the attack techniques in aikido explained, and how to do them correctly.
More about the book here.

Aikibatto, by Stefan Stenudd. Aikibatto
Aikiken Sword Exercises for Aikido. The aikibatto exercises, practical and spiritual aspects of the sword arts, advice on equipment for training.
More about the book here.

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Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd

About me
I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.