Sitting Seiza*

Seiza ("correct-sitting") is the formal Japanese sitting or kneeling posture. Because it can be uncomfortable for beginners with tight leg muscles or for those with bad knees, students may sit cross-legged or on a seiza stool (a slant-top stool as shown) or on a chair. These positions tend not to be as stable, however, so uke must be especially sensitive while testing. From a kneeling position,

  • Forehead and weight of head are over One-Point rather than the feet.
  • Lower back curves in gently.
  • Hands rest lightly on the thighs.
  • Right big toe is over left big toe.
  • Posture is softly erect.

When pressure is applied to the chest (with mind and body coordinated) seiza allows you to transfer the force to the tailbone which, being pushed into the mat, just makes you more stable.


Sitting Cross-Legged*

Sitting cross-legged (anw) may be more comfortable and familiar for the beginner than seiza. Shoulders are relaxed, weight slightly forward and hands rest on knees slightly forward of ankles. When weight is properly distributed it is difficult for a partner to lift the knee.

Cross-legged sitting is inherently less stable than seiza because the pelvis is more rounded. It flows veiy naturally, however, into a backwards roll.


"On the street/' a favorite phrase in martial arts classes, usually means "in the movies'" or "as seen on TV." Yes. we live in a violent world but studies have repeatedly shown that those who watch TV regularly have a sevciely warped view of the world and sec it as a far more dangerous, violent place than it ically is They feel more helpless, hostile, and fearful of neighbors and strangers than those who deal with the real world and ical people. But feelings of helplessness, hostility and fear, whatever theii source feed the cyclc of fear and violence.

In our Fairfax County recrcation classes, we regularly found that most students had signed up for self-defense "on the street." They are attracted to the county classcs by the advertisement of a "non-violent martial art" and they enjoy themselves and each other. A new martial arts film, however. brings an influx of terrified and hostile students1.

"Who has ever actually been threatened on the street?" we asked Over three years and nearly 200 students, there were only three and all had dealt successfully with the problem.

"Who has tripped ovei feet or curb anytime in the last month?" All hands went up. What then, is the most practical form of "self-defense" with the most immediate value?

Rolls are hands-free (note that the most common injuries "on the street" are from attempting to break a fall and breaking a wrist instead). Rolls are circular (Ki Society uses breakfalls only rarely); once the technique and dynamics of rolling have been mastered it doesn't really matter whether the "wheel*' of your body rolls over a mat or over a parking lot.

The ability to fall and roll safely is one of the best self-defense techniques there is But as usual in Aikido, there's more to it

"We learn to roll." says George Simcox Sensei, "so that we can help someone else to learn Aikido "

1 "On the road," is a little different, see "Gridlock • See also "Radio/TV."

Rolling Backwards and Forwards*

This is a simple rolling back and forth (koho-tento-undo) like a rocking chair.

Sitting cross-legged with hands on thighs,

  1. At count of One, roll backwards by rounding the lower back.
  2. On count of Two, roll forward to original position.

The roll begins by rounding the lower back, not by flinging back the head. Throwing the head back puts the head in an unsafe position. Be a ball, not a brick.

To keep back rounded during the roll, think of touching knee to nose or touching your forehead to your belt. Merely tucking the chin does not curve the neck or back.

Hands remain on knees or thighs; they do not touch the mat. Tempted to use hands? Clap them.

Rolling Backwards and Rising to a Kneel

Roll back as in previous exercise, but on coming forward,

  1. Tuck the near leg as close to the pelvis as possible.
  2. Bring other leg forward, bent at an angle of up to (but not greater than) ninety degrees. By pushing off with the tucked back leg (not with hands),
  3. Rise into a kneeling position with back leg at an oblique angle to the body. (You can't roll with back leg perpendicular to the body).

From here, il is easy to drop back to another backward roll or rise to a standing position, hanmi. (See "Standing" on page 32.).

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Full Back Rolfs

A complete back roll continues the motion of the backward-forward roll.

To do a complete back roll,

  1. Start from the kneeling position, left foot forward and left knee up, right knee and leg on the mat.
  2. Look at the left knee. You will be "throwing" this left knee over your left shoulder.
  3. Look right, rock back and sit down past the mat leg while throwing your left leg over your left shoulder. As hips go overhead, continue the motion by pushing off with left arm.
  4. As you complete the roll, bring your left leg forward to the original starting position.

Rolling Forward*

Forward rolls are more complex than back rolls — and painful if improperly done. For this reason, It is highly recommended that you get formal instruction from an Aikido dojo.

  1. Kneel with left knee on mat, right knee up,
  2. Lean forward placing right Unbendable Aim with back of right hand on mat. (Or join hands forming arms into a large circle).
  3. Tuck and turn neck and head away from the rolling arm (left).
  4. Curving back, neck and arm into a large circle, push off with toes, move hips forward rolling along right hand and arm and across back.
  5. End in a kneel or standing (hanmi).

Xhe Aikido roll (unlike the tumbling roll) does not flip over the nape of the neck, but precedes slightly sideways down the arm, across the back to the hip. The head is tucked away from the rolling arm. This roll protects neck and spine so well that, properly done, it makes no difference whether you are rolling on a mat or on concrete.

A hard painful thump at the small of the back or hip means you are not tucking enough. Think of touching your knee to your nose, look at your belt, or try to tuck your forehead into your chest while rolling to maintain roundness.

New students often try rolls or other techniques two or three times and when all does not work perfectly, conclude that it's "too hard." Traditionally the beginning jujutsu student was given an assignment — one thousand rolls.

After doing one thousand rolls you will know how to roll. And you will no longer be a beginner.


Cross rolls (zempo-kaiten warn) are done as in normal forward rolls, but begin with left knee up and right arm on mat.

The Aikido test list {hitori waza) requires a series of three of these small rolls done in series while maintaining the same arm/leg relationships. Beginners who are hopelessly confused between right and left sometimes find it helpful to practice by tying a string around the big toe or by putting a sock on the "rolling" foot.

During rolling practice, students are sometimes challenged to see who can travel the length of the mat with the fewest large rolls, and who can do it with the most small rolls.

Hot tip: Cross-rolls are the answer to the "most rolls" problem.

Standing Rolls

Standing rolls are essentially the same as small rolls and end in hanmL

Standing backward rolls are done in the same way as small backward rolls from the kneeling position except that you first place the top of the foot on the mat, drop to the kneeling position and roll from there.

Standing forward rolls are done in the same way as small forward rolls except that you must roll along a larger circle which extends out further from your beginning position. See it and get training in this before you try it.


The two basic standing positions are

Shizentai is a 'natural'' stance, feet parallel and shoulder-width apart.

Hanrni (meaning "half-body") from Japanese sword tradition, is a deceptively and astonishingly stable position. The distance between front and back foot is quite small. Stability comes from mind-body coordination and One-Point, not just the geometry of foot position.

Left kanmi means standing in this position with the left foot forward. Right hanmi means standing in this position with the right foot forward.

To rise into hanmi from a kneeling position,

  1. Push off with legs only (no hands!)
  2. With left foot forward, right foot back, rise up on toes.
  3. Lower heels to floor without moving weight backwards.
  4. Stand comfortably, with attention at One-Point.

Karate instructors constantly told me to widen my stance.Aikido instructors constantly urged me to narrow it.

Hanmi looks unthreatening, even casual and unconcerned, but offers dynamic stability, ease of motion — and you can dance to it.

This statement is not as frivolous as might appear. The classic karate stances are intended to provide a solid platform for outgoing punches and kicks, and a brace against incoming force. The Aikidoist simply moves out of the way. and can do so easily.

To test this, try a waltz around the room with one partner in hanmi, horse-stance (the karate stance shown at right).

Which partner can move more easily?

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