7 Ken Suburi

O-Sensei in Iwama with Aiki-ken

“Among the basic ken practices left by the founder are the ki-musubi-no-tachi and the 5 kumi-tachi. Since the kumi-tachi are quite complicated, we must learn the basic 7 suburi in order to avoid becoming confused and to be able to safely practice the kumi-tachi. I formulated 7 suburi practices by selecting movements from the 7 kumi-tachi. We must practice the suburi a sufficient amount in order to execute the kumi-tachi safely.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

When you practice buki-waza (weapons techniques) the posture you begin in is called shizen-tai, which means “natural body”, or “natural position”. Grab your ken (sword) in the middle with your left hand keeping it at an angle of 45° on your left side; your elbow should be slightly bent, your back straight, chest lifted and your heels very close together with a slight opening between your toes. Your right hand is relaxed on your right leg. You are ready to start ken practice.

The movement to draw the ken is called nuki-tsuke in Japanese. Grab the handle below the tsuba with the right hand and at the same time advance with the right foot, moving into ken-no-kamae-migi, in which the left hand grabs the ken at the end of the handle (tsuka), while the right hand grabs above, just below the tsuba; the feet are in migi-hanmi (right foot forward). The end of the sword handle, or hilt (called the tsuka-kashira) is in front of your hara, while the tip (kissaki) is pointed at an imaginary opponent’s throat in front of you.

The ken-suburi-nanahon are all performed starting from ken-no-kamae-migi.

The movement to sheath the sword is called noto-tsuke in Japanese. Follow the same movement, but in reverse. From ken-no-kamae-migi, while stepping back with the right foot and aligning it with the left, release the ken with the left hand and with the right bring the ken to your left side with the blade turned up; then, grab the ken in the middle with the left hand and return your right hand to your right side, thereby returning to shizen-tai.

Before beginning suburi practice, say the name of the series and then the name of each suburi. At the end of each suburi wait for two seconds (ni-byo) in order to control your position and then return to ken-no-kamae-migi. Perform a kiai during each cut and always maintain a martial attitude (zanshin and metsuke).
 
Ichi No Suburi (The 1st Suburi)

“All of the kumi-tachi start with the sword held at the centre level in a horizontal position in order to execute a decisive movement. The first suburi represents an important exercise for learning the decisive movement in sword practices.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

Starting in ken-no-kamae-migi, lift the sword by the kissaki (the tip), simultaneously turn your hips from left to right, close your elbows for protection without obstructing your line-of-site and slide your right foot backward just a little without shifting your weight backward as well.

When you raise the sword above your head, your hips should be in a frontal position and your elbows closed. In preparing your strike, bring your sword back, resting it on only one point in the middle of your back. When you complete the strike, cutting down with shomen-uchi, end the movement by turning your hips and returning to hanmi stance, relaxing your arms.

After the strike, wait two seconds and return to ken-no-kamae-migi.

As in all sword exercises the tsuka-kashira (the end of the hilt or handle), must always be in front of your hara, or your navel or the knot of your obi (belt).

There are some common mistakes to be avoided:

  • Avoid lifting your centre when you prepare your strike. Try to execute this movement with your koshi (hips) at the same level.
  • Avoid opening your grip too much, especially when you lift the sword. You should only slacken the control on your ken, but maintain a solid grip.
  • Avoid cutting too far from your body because you will be unbalanced forward, out of your centre.
    Avoid starting the movement bending your head forward or sideways. Try to keep your head straight and aligned with your body.
  • When finishing your strike, avoid turning your head to the side. Look in front of you and only turn your body.

Ni No Suburi (The 2nd Suburi)

“The hips are engaged fully to finish in the hanmi position in the second suburi in such a way so as to avoid an ai-uchi or mutual kill situation with the sword. This is a characteristic of Aikido. If our hips were left in a straight forward position, this will result in a mutual kill situation with the sword. This distinction can be seen in the photographs of the founder using the sword.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

Starting in ken-no-kamae-migi, prepare the strike by taking a step back with your right foot and assuming the hito-e-mi posture, in which your back toe is on the same line as your front heel. In this way you move slightly out from the central line and lift the sword above your head. Remember to always lift up the tip (kissaki) of your ken before the hilt (tsuka).

When you are in the hito-e-mi position, your front elbow should be at the correct distance from your head in order to have unobstructed line-of-site. The sword should be slanted slightly backwards. Keep your hips low and avoid lifting your centre.

From this position start turning your hips to prepare your strike, close your elbows without obstructing your line-of-sight in front of you, keep your centre at the same level and maintain a solid grip on your sword.

Prepare the cutting strike in the same way as the first suburi, bringing your ken to rest on one spot on your back. Take a step forward with your right foot and cut down in front of you (shomen-uchi on the line of attack). Avoid completing the strike moving the front foot outside the line of the sword. Your foot and your ken should always be on the same line, directed toward your target. End the movement by turning your hips and returning to hanmi stance, relaxing your arms.

After the strike, wait two seconds, breathe out and return to ken-no-kamae-migi. Repeat the exercise.

San No Suburi (The 3rd Suburi)

“The third suburi is used in the kumi-tachi and ki-musubi-no-tachi. The founder explained that we should perform this movement with the feeling of assimilating ourselves into the universe by inhaling universal ki through the tip of the sword, passing through the nose and arriving at the seika-tanden.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

Start as in the second suburi, assuming the hito-e-mi position, taking a step back with your right foot. Breathe in, lifting the tip of the sword as in the second suburi, but this time lift the sword straight up over your head. Don’t keep it too close to your head; rather extend your arms and your whole body upward. In performing this suburi you can extend your body upward and not keep your centre at the same level. Try to extend yourself as much as possible.

Now, go into waki-kamae by lowering your sword and your body very slowly, bringing the ken to rest on your back (right) thigh. This movement should be executed on the central line, so don’t move out from it and don’t move forward. Always look in front of you, at your opponent, resting the sword on your back thigh and executing this movement without breathing. Avoid letting your opponent see your sword by keeping it on the line.

You are still holding your breath. From this position start preparing your cutting strike by turning your hips from right to left and closing your elbows. Step forward with your right foot, without lifting your shoulders or the sword, but rather lowering the hips and relaxing the shoulders; exhale forcefully and strike shomen-uchi directly over your head.

After the strike, wait two seconds, breathe out and return to ken-no-kamae-migi. Repeat the exercise.

Yon No Suburi (The 4th Suburi)

“In Aikido we make no distinction between right and left. Whether we are in the right or left hanmi, we practice using the sword so that it and the body function as a single unit.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

The first movement in yon-no-suburi is the same as the first suburi: slide your front foot back just a little and turn your hips; then cut down with shomen-uchi on the starting point.

Staying on the central line, continue performing the subsequent shomen-uchi cuts, lifting the kissaki (the tip) before the tsuka (the hilt) and simultaneously move your back foot. Make sure you turn your hips to the appropriate side during each strike.

To change direction, raise the sword above your head and prepare the next shomen-uchi. Immediately turn your hips, keeping your elbows closed from the beginning. Keep your ken straight up when you turn and strike with a shomen-uchi in the opposite direction.

When performing this suburi, imagine that the tip of the sword and the toe of your back foot are linked together by a string, so when you lift the sword up you step with the back foot. Avoid shifting your weight backward when preparing the strike. Keep your weight centered all the time and maintain the kamae position.

Wait two seconds at the end of each strike.

You usually perform 4 strikes in one direction and 4 in the opposite direction. These are just a guide and you can decide how many strikes should be performed depending on the space available around you.

Go No Suburi (The 5th Suburi)

“The fifth suburi is the movement most often used in the kumi-tachi. From the right hanmi we raise the sword from the right, in such a way so as to protect our bodies and strike downward, ending up in the left hanmi. From the left hanmi we move the sword to the left, protecting our body and then step forward with the right foot to strike, finishing in the right hanmi. We move our bodies fully to the right and left in the kumi-tachi. In the suburi we practice adjusting our positions to the right and left hanmi as appropriate.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

In the fifth suburi, perform only yokomen and gyaku-yokomen strikes, that is to say diagonal cuts at your opponent’s temples, executed alternately to the right and to the left of the central line, moving out from it just a little.

Start the exercise by immediately stepping forward with your back foot and lifting the sword above your head, beginning to turn it a little; correct your hanmi and cut your opponent’s right temple. The first movement is a gyaku-yokomen cut.

Execute four strikes (or more if you would like), then start changing direction. At this moment lift your ken up above your head and turn your hips. Now strike the opposite temple of your opponent that you struck in the previous cut. In this example you would strike the left temple, turn and cut the right temple. Take a step forward to continue the exercise.

You should always perform a small kaiten movement to stay out of the central line.

Usually, to finish in ken-no-kamae-migi, you should execute only 3 cuts in the second direction. At any rate, the number of strikes is not set. The most important detail to pay attention to is to step immediately forward and out of the central line with your back foot without moving your front foot at all. It is a mistake to move the front foot first.

To perform the repeated strikes correctly, shift your weight directly on the appropriate leg, immediately step forward and cut your opponent’s temple.

Another important point to emphasize is that when you execute yokomen and gyaku-yokomen you should not cut by turning the blade slantwise. These movements are too large and noticeable, easily blocked by your opponent. Instead, lift your sword above your head, then cut diagonally following a shallow curve.

Always keep the blade above the level of your ear and never at a lower level. Don’t prepare your cut by lowering the blade, but rather lift the tip of the sword from behind your back. Repeat the same movement on the other side, paying attention to lift the tip of your ken before your hands.

Wait two seconds at the end of each strike.

Roku No Suburi (The 6th Suburi)

“In the sixth suburi we blend with the sword being raised and then thrust. It is one of the movements included in the ki-musubi-no-tachi exercise. We dodge the oncoming shomen-uchi attack to the right and immediately, when our opponent attempts to attack, we execute a thrust.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

When practising the sixth and seventh suburi, first execute ni-no-suburi. Start by stepping back with your right foot, assuming the hito-e-mi position and lifting the sword above your head; then, cut with a shomen-uchi on the central line, exactly as in the second suburi.
 
Now, turn the blade to the left and thrust at your opponent’s stomach, executing a small kaiten movement to move out of the central line of attack.

Cut with a gyaku-yokomen, stepping forward with the left foot, moving out of the central line, and turn the blade to the right, thrusting at your partner’s stomach with a tsuki.

Turn as in the fifth suburi and cut with a yokomen-uchi at the opposite side of your partner’s head. Then, turn the blade to the left and thrust at your opponent’s stomach, executing a small kaiten movement to move out of the central line of attack.

Cut with a gyaku-yokomen moving out of the central line to the opposite side, and turn the blade to the right, thrusting at your partner’s stomach with a tsuki.

Wait two seconds at the end of each strike.

You usually perform 2 strikes in one direction and 2 in the opposite direction. These are just a guide and you can decide how many strikes should be performed depending on the space available around you.

When executing this suburi, remember that the tsuka-kashira, the hilt of the sword, should always be in front of your centre.

Shichi No Suburi (The 7th Suburi)

“The seventh suburi is used in the second and fourth kumi-tachi. In this movement our strike is parried downward and we free the sword circularly and then counter with a thrust. When the enemy blocks or parries the sword downward, we always use this counter against his block or parry.” – Morihiro Saito Sensei

Start this exercise by executing the second suburi. Assume the hito-e-mi position and cut with a shomen-uchi on the central line of attack.

In the sixth suburi you turn the blade to the left and then to the right, but when you execute the seventh suburi always turn the blade to the right and thrust, stepping forward with your left foot, moving slightly out of the central line.

Perform a yokomen-uchi on the opposite side of central line, stepping forward with your right foot; turn the blade to the right, keeping the tsuka-kashira in front of your centre, step forward with your left foot and tsuki.

To change direction, bring the sword over your head and cut with yokomen-uchi, ensuring not to shift your weight backward too much when you strike.

Wait two seconds at the end of each strike.

You usually perform 2 strikes in one direction and 2 in the opposite direction. These are just a guide and you can decide how many strikes should be performed depending on the space available around you.

When executing this exercise your front foot, your line-of-sight and the blade of your ken are all pointing in the same direction, on the same line.

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About Takemusu Aikido South Africa

The Takemusu Aikido Association South Africa (TAASA), formally Iwama Ryu™ South Africa, is a free group of black-belted practitioners of Aikido based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our aim is to promote and spread the traditional teaching method of Morihiro Saito Sensei, direct student of the Founder of Aikido, to all communities in South Africa.