Yoshinkan Aikido and Kamae
In Yoshinkan Aikido kamae is what all Yoshinkan practitioners continually strive to improve. Everything comes from kamae. Recently my sensei reminded me that kamae is the hardest technique and I replied that kamae is everything. The next day though I started asking myself did I know that or am I just beginning to understand that after about nine years? Nine years may sound like plenty of time to understand that “kamae is everything” but sometimes the simplest ideas are the most difficult to learn. Shomen Uchi Shomen Irimi Nage is called the twelve year technique but when you look at it, it looks likes Shite is just walking into Uke and knocking him down. That doesn’t seem so hard right? Actually it is.
Kamae in Yoshinkan Aikido is different from other styles. The hips and shoulders are squared and the front knee is bent with your weight forward. The front foot is pointed outwards with the back foot about ninety degrees to the front. Your top hand is chest level with the bottom waist level. Your fingers are spread out with natural curves in your arms. That sounds like a lot to keep straight and even harder to learn. This is why you are always improving your kamae to make it stronger. If you are uncomfortable while adjusting yourself into kamae then you are on the right track.
So why would it take someone nine years to understand how important kamae is? Even after being told kamae, kamae, kamae, for years it still takes another reminder. Kamae looks like the easiest part of training but it is actually one of the hardest. I believe that individuals get caught up on the techniques themselves and not proper form. After spending years trying to make techniques stronger you may not be improving as much as you think if you have not been working on kamae.
All of the techniques practiced come from kamae. While executing a technique you will always be in kamae. If you get stuck during a technique then adjust your stance so you will be in some form of kamae. The power does not come from your arms but from your entire body and to use your entire body you need a good kamae. The six basic movements called Kihon Dosa are what you use at the core of all techniques and where you can work on staying in some form of kamae while practicing them.
All six of the Kihon Dosa have an Ichi and Ni version. The ichi versions involve a pull to create energy moving away from you and the ni versions have a push to create energy moving towards you. With Ichi versions you follow through with the energy and in the Ni versions you pivot or body change to redirect it. Throughout all of these keep in mind the proper form and remember kamae. Relaxed low movements will help you in keeping proper form. Your legs will be tired and sore at first but they will get stronger the more you practice. Always give the same amount of effort with kihon dosa, do not become lazy in your practice. Doing so will result in a weak kamae and spirit.
Shortly after I began training in Aikido we had a seminar with Robert Mustard (7th Dan) and I was blown away with what he can do. He talked about the importance of kamae at that seminar and at following ones as well. Maybe I was not truly listening then if I had to ask myself nine years later if I knew how important kamae was. He also told us that “martial arts are about what you can do based on your efforts”. What could be more accurate when it comes to training? If you don’t try then you won’t improve. It is not just about the techniques but also the basis of the techniques.
Kamae is not just a stance but a frame of mind. If your kamae is strong then your mind is strong and alert for the coming attack. Everything starts from kamae and always ends in kamae, you should not stand up and walk slowly back to your spot. After a technique is practiced both shite and uke come up in kamae and move back to their spots while still facing each other. Remember how important kamae is and continue training with good spirit. Osu!