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Aikido and sitting in Seiza

Updated on August 26, 2011

This is a hub about the history of seiza and how to move into this position. I will explain when you should sit in seiza and for how long. Seiza is a simple kneeling position but once you are in it is hard to stay kneeling if you are not used to it. I hope you enjoy this hub!

Seiza is the name used to describe kneeling in martial arts. You sit in seiza when you bow in when sensei is talking, and when you bow out. If you are not used to this sitting position you will find it a bit uncomfortable at first. At first your legs will ache and you will have the pins and needles feeling from a loss of blood circulation. After a while you will feel a complete numbness of your legs if you sit in seiza long enough. The more you practice sitting in seiza your muscles will be stretched and it will become easier in time.

Seiza came about from individuals finding proper ways to sit in different situations. Where they were and what they wore affected the way someone would consider proper sitting. Seiza became widely used during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) where it became common in Japanese architecture to cover floors with tatami mats. The warrior class was very formal and this style of flooring was made specifically with them in mind. As time went on seiza became the proper way to sit on tatami mat covered floors and by the 18th century sitting in seiza was part of everyday life.

You should always do your best to stay in seiza position. If you have a knee or leg injury that prevents you from sitting in seiza do not force yourself into this position. You are not proving anything by causing yourself more harm and you will not be able to train. If you do not have any injuries though stay in the kneeling position as long as you can. There are certain times such as testing when you should kneel in seiza throughout the period.

Before you even start class try to stretch your legs first. This will help a little bit while you are bowing in and are in seiza. There is a formal way to move into seiza also from standing do not just drop down onto your knees that is not proper etiquette. Begin in Migi Hamni Kamae (right side stance) and lower yourself down onto your left knee. Move your right leg (which was still up) now down and sit on your heels while placing your hands on your thighs. Push yourself forward with your toes and kneel flat on the floor with your back straight and your left big toe over the right.

When standing up from seiza perform all of the previous steps in reverse. Bring your right knee up first and make sure you are up on your back toes. Have your hands in the correct position for right side kamae and straighten your left leg to stand up. If you have been kneeling for a long period of time, do not try to stand right up your legs could be numb and you may fall over. If you can, slowly move back to a standing position so the blood in your legs can start circulating again.

I mentioned that you should have your left toe over the right while sitting in seiza. This symbolizes passive overaggressive the same way we have the left side of our dogi (uniform) jackets over the right. It is a detail I am surprised a lot of people do not know about. One of the most important things to remember while sitting in seiza is Don’t Move. Once you move while sitting in seiza for a while your blood tries to circulate and that’s when you start to hurt. Focus on the feet in front of you or the back of someone’s head if you have to while sitting in seiza for a long time.

Seiza is very important in Aikido because Aikido uses Shikko (knee walking) in training. Any technique performed standing can be performed on our knees and this is why shikko is practiced. Performing techniques while kneeling strengthens the hips which in turn improves our standing techniques. Shikko is a very unfamiliar way to move and will take practice. Your toes will also ache at first but as with all things they will stretch out as well.

To shikko or knee walk you begin in seiza with your hands on your thighs. You can come up on your toes at first to begin with and bring your left knee up while swinging your hips to point your left knee forward. Drop your knee down and then swing your right hip so your right knee points forward and drop it down. Continue this left and right movement while keeping your hands on your thighs and your ankles as close together as you can.

There are four different ways to Shikko but the first one is the type most commonly used. The second requires a large step with your leading foot and pushing off with your back toes. The third shikko is moving backwards and the fourth is moving forward without lifting your knees off of the mat. Remember to always stay on your toes while knee walking because if you don’t you will have nasty mat burns on the tops of your feet.

Seiza and shikko can be practiced anywhere you are able to. You can sit in seiza while reading, watching T.V, or browsing the web if you can. Shikko can be practiced at home while playing on the floor with your kids or brother or sister. I used shikko at the bookstore a lot in the past to look at the books on the bottom shelves. You can see the bottom and middle shelves at the same time this way and can then stand up and just look through the top shelves.

Practicing seiza and shikko at home will help stretch your legs and toes more so it is not as uncomfortable while you are training at the dojo. With everything you do try your best and have good spirit while training. If you have never attempted shikko before don’t worry how you look because it is your first time trying it. In time you will move faster up and down the mats like some of your fellow students are. Have fun and keep training hard Osu!

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