Whenever you hear someone speak about Aikido, inevitably the notion of “there are no attacks in Aikido” will arise. Most will agree, however, I beg to differ. O’ Sensei is quoted as saying, “98% of Aikido is Atemi”, what is Atemi? Atemi is literally a blow to the body. Its purpose however, depending on your discipline or martial art of choice, is either an intense percussive or soft blow to the body. Atemi, as it is primarily practiced in Aikido, is not intended to deliver a knock out, crippling, or deathblow but rather to distract an opponent ‘s mind and take advantage of a natural reaction. It is often used as a means for capturing balance, or kuzushi, leading to the application of technique, joint lock, pin, or throw.

The delivery of an effective atemi is helpful to obtaining kuzushi and can assist in the application of any technique. Without it, a more labored and possibly ineffective technique may be the result. This does not mean that every Aikido technique begins or ends with an atemi necessarily, but rather that one should be aware and look for an opening, or create openings with the use of atemi in taking balance and then applying technique.

If there is one thing other than kuzushi that is taught at our dojo, it is to look for, or create an “opening” with an atemi. If your atemi is weak or non-existent, then you should look to other more percussive attacking arts to better develop and control your attack/atemi.

How to deliver an atemi, both on and of the mat:
Just like the proper application of technique, one uses the body and is grounded. Any boxer will tell you that a good punch comes from the ground up. In addition, atemi does not include a wind up. The hand or foot moves directly from its starting position to the target without chambering or looping away first. That creates more of an element of surprise and is more likely to produce the desired effect.

How to receive an atemi, both on and off the mat:
First understand the situation, if you are on the mat and are working on technique with a partner, nage, then protect yourself, your body or the face, as you may also do in the street. However, there is a different feel, that of learning and cooperation for the betterment of both practitioners, and the learning of the technique and not one of domination and show of strength and power. For example, as you protect your face or body from an atemi, simply block contact with you at the same time not stopping or altering nage’s movement. Allow nage the opportunity to practice atemi and learn how use it appropriately.

On the street, it is quite a different matter. A jab, atemi, is intended to judge reach, to feign the next sequence of real attacks, to set the stage, etc.… knowing this, you must both psychologically prepared to absorb the “blow” in wait for the real strike and be ready to disarm, diffuse, or redirect the attack to where you are in better position for a counter strike and application of technique, reversal, henka waza, and defeat the opponent. O ‘Sensei said that being fluid and adaptable is the true way of Aikido as your opponent cannot defeat you as you are “nothing” and can react to all possibilities.

One of Pete Tamangi Sensei’s mantras, that of; Kuzushi, Tsukuri, and Kake, is recited repeatedly to his students as a regular part of training as is breathing. Repetition is the mother of learning and the sign of a great teacher. Tamagni Sensei often speaks of a favorite area that is often exposed, the rib cag, an area that is so tender and can cause a good amount of impact and response to that of immobility given a good application of atemi. Being aware of this area will dramatically improve your odds should you ever need to apply aikido techniques in a real life situation. Tamagni Sensei often says: “I don’t teach anything that doesn’t work on the street”. There is nothing like a good, effective, and well placed, atemi. “All war is based on deception” Sun Tzu, Art of War is in essence atemi!

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