Iwama Style Aikido is the style of aikido that was taught at Iwama dojo (in Iwama) by the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and especially the lineage passed on through Morihiro Saito, a close disciple who was given responsibility over Iwama dojo by Ueshiba.
It is also known by many names. These include Iwama-ryū (岩間流 where ryū is the Japanese term for a style or school), Iwama Style (岩間スタイル where "style" was transliterated into Japanese from English). It is often associated with the term Takemusu after the martial concept. It is sometimes also referred to as Traditional or Dentō (伝統, lit. traditional).
At one point Saito gave out specific "Iwama-ryu" ranks at the insistence of his European students. However, he always awarded ranks through the Aikikai out of respect for the Ueshiba family.[not in citation given]
Saito also gave out mokuroku (scrolls) for his aiki-ken and aiki-jo with levels loosely modeled after the traditional license system of classical Japanese martial arts.
Today, Iwama style aikido organisations can be found both within and outside of the Aikikai. The main non-Aikikai branch is Iwama Shin-Shin Aiki Shuren-kai, founded by Morihiro Saito's son Hitohiro Saito. It continues to issue Iwama Ryu grading certificates; however, many of Saito's longest students have remained affiliated with the Aikikai. In Europe some of these groups belong to the Takemusu Aikido Kyokai umbrella organisation. In the United States, the major organization is the Takemusu Aikido Association
Some years ago, the distribution of Iwama style dojos was more abundant in some countries, such as the Scandinavian countries. The existence of this organization was reflected in the organization of aikido in some countries, such as Sweden, where there were three committees for the different types of aikido within the Budo Federation - Iwama-ryū, Ki-aikido, and Aikikai. Despite this, the original Iwama Ryu group was never officially declared an organization independent of the Aikikai, and it can be regarded as a rather informal network.
Iwama style includes the combined study (riai) of traditional Japanese weapons (bukiwaza), specifically Aiki-jō (staff) and Aiki-ken (sword), and of empty-handed aikido(taijutsu), both accompanied by kiai. Iwama practitioners often claim that their aikido is close to that of the founder, as preserved by Morihiro Saito. Much of this claim is based on photos taken from the Noma Dojo and a technical manual written by the founder.
Among non-Iwama practitioners, a common opinion is that Iwama style mainly is Morihei Ueshiba's aikido of the 1940s and 1950s not taking into consideration his later years; this viewpoint is considered to be too simplistic by Iwama-style practitioners.
Iwama (style) Aikido has a strong grip when starting most of the kata (drills). Most Aikido styles uses a softer grip method when starting their kata. Iwama Aikido style grip is strong and powerful and the aim is to pin the whole body with a strong strategic grip.
Generally speaking, Iwama style is considered more martial than counterparts, such as Aikikai's, which tends to be more acrobatic and artistic than martial.
Whether taught at an Aikikai or Iwama Shin-Shin Aiki Shuren-kai school, Iwama style Aikido tends to be highly codified. Weapons training, including kata, is stressed. Techniques are generally practiced first from a static grab and footwork is often broken up into numbered steps. In addition weapons work involves many repetitions of suburi and paired practice is practiced with a pause between each movement until students are relatively advanced.
Every class in an Iwama style dojo begins with tai-no-henko and morotedori kokyu-ho and ends with kokyu-dosa.
- Kihon (basic/foundational) or Kotai (static) practice
- Yawarakai or Jutai (soft, flowing movement)
- Ki-no-nagare (lit. the flow of ki)
While many aikido practitioners stress a vertical posture, Iwama stylists practice with the hip tucked to allow the back leg's power to be better exerted (see the Yoshinkan's kamae). Though the back should be kept straight and the center of mass kept between the legs, this creates an impression of leaning forward. The neck is ideally also kept relatively straight. Also, while a number of aikido styles practice with the hips square the front, Iwama stylists often have their hips slightly rotated. This is because the feet are kept on a line, but the front foot points forward rather than turned out (in contrast to the Yoshinkan). In jo work, the posture of hito-emi, or standing with a dramatically minimized profile facing the opponent, is stressed.
Many techniques, especially techniques that begin from shomen-uchi, start with nage initiating a strike to uke in the most basic form of the technique. This was taught by the Founder and is discussed in his book Budo. It is common with Yoshinkan and Michio Hikitsuchi's basic practice, but opposite of how many other styles of Aikido teach the techniques. Once this variation is mastered, students may also practice with uke striking, though it is emphasized that tori is initiating the encounter. Saito referred to this as the "way of the mountain echo" (yamabiko no michi), presumably after a poem by the founder.
Koshi-nage in Iwama style aikido is always performed with the hips perpendicular to the uke and the hips acting as a fulcrum.
In ukemi Iwama practitioners will usually attempt to parry the atemi being thrown by nage, which may or may not be encouraged in other styles of aikido.
The sword forms of Iwama style are generally recognized as being descended from Kashima Shinto-ryu sword techniques. In particular the first two kumitachi are nearly identical in the sequence of cuts to forms from Kashima Shinto-ryu. According to Saito Shihan, the "kumitachi" are as O-Sensei taught.
Focus on bukiwaza is a hallmark of this style. Some of the bukiwaza practices were developed by O-sensei whereas others are Saito Sensei's distillation of O-Sensei's teachings.
Ara-Waza and Henka-Waza
Ara-waza, literally coarse techniques, are occasionally practiced by Iwama style Aikido practitioners. These techniques are intended to explicitly show the more vicious applications hidden in Aikido technique and include simple kicks targeting the knees and entangling or twisting joints during throws with the intent to break them. Some henka-waza (modified basic techniques) in Iwama style Aikido also include entangling joints, locking large joints, strikes to vital points, and occasionally chokes using the arm or the partner's dogi. For safety reasons these are never performed fully for safety reasons.
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