Effective Aikido: Leading An Overhead Strike Into A Head Control Technique and Throw

(Shomen-uchi Kokyu-Nage Hansha Tenkan)

By Roy Y. Suenaka Sensei and Christopher Watson

Editor’s Note: FightingArts.com is pleased to offer the second in a series of articles titled “Effective Aikido,” by Master Roy Suenaka and Christopher Watson. Suenaka Sensei, founder of Suenaka-ha Tetsugaku-ho Wadokai Aikido, is one of contemporary aikido’s premier practitioners. A student of aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, as well as Koichi Tohei, Suenaka Sensei is a master technician whose techniques are known for their practical effectiveness. For those acquainted with aikido and its terminology, the technique demonstrated below is: shomen-uchi kokyu-nage hansha tenkan.

In this article and in others in the series, Roy Suenaka Sensei demonstrates an undiluted aikido. It is Suenaka Sensei’s earnest desire to show that aikido is more than and the esthetically pleasing, but martially ineffective, art that so many schools practice — that aikido is, by design and when properly practiced, a dynamic and effective method of self-defense.

During this series, the reader will note that counter-strikes (atemi) are often used. Morihei Ueshiba (affectionately referred to as O’Sensei by his students), the founder of aikido, often stressed the importance of distraction and counterstrikes to disorient and distract the attacker’s focus (leading his mind away from his attack).(1)

No other technique in aikido demonstrates so well the inherent philosophy of spiritual and physical harmony than the technique that aikido practitioners call a breath throw (kokyu-nage). If executed well, this technique can serve as effective self-defense. But this is not easy. That is why this type of kokyu-nage is often called “the 20 year technique,” because many say that it takes 20 years to perfect it.

Shomen-Uchi Kokyu-Nagi Hansha Tenkan

The attacker (photo 1) delivers an overhead strike to the head. In the street this could also be a club attack or downward strike with a bottle. Suenaka slides to the side and redirects the strike with his right forearm while delivering atemi to the attacker’s ribs with his left hand.

Suenaka then (photo 2) leads the attacker outside, capturing the momentum generated by the attacker’s strike by sweeping his arm while turning. This circular lead, and the centrifugal force it generates, off-balances the attacker. At the same time, Suenaka captures the attacker’s head with his left hand as momentum naturally leads it there, guiding it into his shoulder, while continuing the lead with his right hand, arm out and palm upwards. Properly led, the attacker is thus unable to deliver a counter-strike.

With the attacker successfully led (photo 3), Suenaka reverses direction, maintaining control of the attacker’s head while rotating his right arm and shoulder forward, thus turning the attacker’s head and propelling him backwards.

Suenaka continues rotating his right arm and shoulder while dropping his hips, and so his weight (photo 4). It is the attacker’s head, rather than his body, that is being thrown.

With the attacker successfully led off-balance and propelled downward, Suenaka releases the head and easily completes the throw (photo 5).

Incorrect Technique

Suenaka blocks (photo 1) rather than redirects the attacker’s strike and fails to counter-strike or move to the attacker’s blind side. The attacker maintains his balance and can easily counter strike.

Suenaka moves outside and grasps the attacker’s collar (photo 2), rather than controlling his head, at the same time cutting the attacker’s arm downward. Again, the attacker maintains his balance.

The force generated by the downward cut (photo 3) forces the attacker to bend at the waist, aided by Suenaka pushing on the back of the attacker’s neck with his left hand. The right hand at this point is essentially useless. Note the open, improper distancing.

Suenaka pulls the attacker upright (photo 4) with his left hand, restoring the attacker’s balance and leaving himself open to neutralization or a counter strike.

The attacker is pulled (photo 5), rather than thrown, backwards.


(1) Suenaka states that “O-sensei did tell me that the effectiveness of aikido lies in the use of atemi within its techniques.” O-sensei is sometimes quoted as saying that “Atemi is 90 percent of aikido.” In his later life, however, in his teaching and in films of his technique, this important element was often omitted. In commenting on this quote Suenaka Sensei states that “The quote about aikido consisting of 90 percent atemi was made during the early or formulative years of aikido at the Kobukan dojo when the student base was a mixture of rough martial artists of various styles.”


This article was abstracted from a demonstration of technique by Suenaka Sensei that accompanied a biographical article on Roy Suenaka Sensei titled, “Spiritual Versus Martial Aikido – Explanation & Reconciliation, ” written by Christopher Watson, that was published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 5 # 1, in 1996. It is reproduced courtesy of Via Media Publishing Co., Michael A. DeMarco, Christopher Watson and Roy Suenaka Sensei.

Tags: , , ,

Comments & Responses

Comments are closed.