In TSYR idori is the practice of doing empty-hand techniques from the kneeling position. In aikido this same practice is often called suwari waza.
Why do we train in this manner? What is the point of trying to neutralise an opponent while kneeling when we would not find ourselves in this position on a day to day basis? Of course, the answer lies within the context of which we train. Aikido’s roots can be traced back to Daito Ryu, an older, more traditional martial art, TSYR is itself a koryu (old school). Both these arts trained their students based on what was required at the time. Japanese warriors would often find themselves kneeling in the house of a higher ranking lord as it was considered rude to have one’s head above a superior’s. Kneeling, instead of sitting, was common place. Therefore, it was prudent to learn how to defeat one’s opponent from this position. So what value does this type of practice present to today’s student? I believe kneeling practice has great value. First of all, leg strength and flexibility is developed. Secondly, powering techniques from the centre (hara) is developed as it is harder to ‘cheat’ with these techniques by just using arms or changing angles.
What interests me about kneeling techniques is that in both TSYR and aikido, traditionally they were taught early in a student’s training along with and often before standing techniques. However, as time as gone on this seems to have been reversed, perhaps to satisfy the western mind-set or to accommodate the westerner’s lack of flexibility, I’m not sure which. I might go even further to say that in aikido, suwari waza training is reduced as certain instructors age and find their knees are damaged and so they can no longer demonstrate the techniques. Whatever the reason, idori/suwari waza has taken a step back in the training sequence. There has been some discussion in TSYR of ensuring beginning students are exposed to idori and the headmaster of the school has allowed some instructors to teach from the chuden curriculum to ensure core skills are developed. It is my understanding that some of the kneeling techniques were originally in the shoden curriculum. Also, a few aikido instructors still incorporate suwari waza from early on in a student’s training as these instructors see the importance of the training. During demonstrations Morihei Ueshiba (founder of aikido) always started with suwari waza before moving on to standing taijutsu.
There are many things to learn in kneeling practice, just simply moving out of seiza to attack while keeping your base is a challenge, initially. This practice alone is a fundamental skill and key to hara development in my opinion. Should you rise incorrectly your attack will be weak and your balance compromised easily and quickly. Rising to receive such an attack also must come from a strong base powered by the hara otherwise the attack will succeed or even if you deflect the attack your balance is lost and you present openings to your opponent.
Kneeling practice is hard. In today’s world we do not sit in seiza very often, let alone move about on our knees. Some aikido dojos drill shikko (knee-walking) where the student s are expected to move up and down the dojo on their knees. The goal is to do this in a smooth manner where the hips do not bob up and down but move on the same horizontal plane. This is difficult but very useful for kneeling practice. I was in such a dojo and value the training greatly. It has enabled me to participate fully in TSYR idori and maintain my structure throughout the movements.
I recommend to anyone reading this to persevere with this training despite the immediate discomfort it brings. Do a little often and over time your tolerance will increase until you can practise these techniques for an hour without complaint.