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Finding Shikaku for Kuzushi:  Establishing a Position in Uke’s Blind Spot or Dead Angle to Easily Unbalance Him

By Jonathan Wilson & Dale Roznowski

January 26, 2015

"At age 67, I'd better not have to move too much!"  There was a ripple of laughter that rolled through the students sitting in seiza.  Sensei Main then proceeded to throw his uke (which at one point was me) while he stayed pretty much static.  When I was uke, every technique was Unbendable Arm (kokunage)~~~  and even though I knew what the technique would be, I could not stand up without his permission.

That experience reminds me of a time I played badminton with this guy who was really good.  He was about 20 years older than I was....  I figured I'd beat him like a drum ~ not because I was a good badminton player, but because he was old and out of shape.  Pretty soon, I noticed that I was the one sprinting back and forth across the court while he stayed in the same spot on the other side (hitting forehand after forehand).....  He rarely had to move to return my volley, but I ALWAYS had to move to return his.  I don't recall scoring a single point in that match.  It was a similar lesson of a sort to the one mentioned above.

So what secret did these men share?  What makes it so effortless for them, and so difficult for us?  What can we learn from these men to help us in our aikido studies?

Consider the following definitions ~ as we been our journey of discovery.

Define:  Shikaku:  Literally "dead angle." A martial position in which it is difficult for uke to continue to attack, and from which it is relatively easy to control uke's balance and movement.  Consider the position of nage in the picture to the left ~ and you’ll see the position I describe.1

Define:  Kuzushi:  A Japanese term for unbalancing an opponent in the Japanese martial arts.  The noun comes from the transitive verb “kuzusu” meaning to level, pull down, destroy or demolish.  As such, it is refers to not just an unbalancing, but the process of putting an opponent to a position, where his stability, hence the ability to regain his integrity for attacking is destroyed.2

I went to training last week thinking "Spin Around" (Irimi nage) ~ and as fate would have it, everyone else wanted to work on that as well.  So I spent literally about an hour on the Spin Around with a green belt and a brown belt, then a purple belt 1 on 1.  The neat thing is that I had spent about an hour and a half working the same technique the day before.  

At one point, I was working on my interpretation of the Spin Around application demonstrated in the video on the left.

Look at just how deep nage enters using an irimi tenkan blend off of the overhead chop.  When we enter using that irimi tenkan movement, we can effortlessly establish a shikaku position ~ behind uke (where we're looking at the back of uke's head, or even inside his ear) ~ making it so easy to unbalance uke because we are so tightly connected to him.

The bonus of obtaining that position is that once you've gained shikaku, uke is “done” ~ and anything uke does (short of escaping with an aggressive forward roll) will result in his demise!  At some point, uke must to turn to face you.  When he does so, you can use the momentum of uke’s turn to easily unbalance him (kuzushi) and  ~~~ WHAM!!! the dynamic reversal strikes uke just as it has become impossible for him to recover!

If you think about it, you might be surprised by how readily you can establish shikaku from almost any striking or gripping attack.  

Finally, keep in mind that the secret to the position is not necessarily the strong entering motion off the irimi tenkan footwork.  That is one scenario of “how to get there.”

Consider this anecdote ~ offered by Dale Roznowski,

another NGA dan graded practitioner as further evidence.

“I would use a little caution on focusing on the need to do a deep step or even irimi tenkan to establish shikaku. A real simple example is if you throw a round house punch and I perry well that strike.  With even a standard blend I should end up in shikaku with unbalancing opportunities (kuzushi) using the Elbow Chop (Sumi Otoshi) ~ as a bonus, and most likely moved slightly back and off line.

Frank Duran made this point in teaching the Spin Around (irimi nage) at a seminar I attended. He said when he was young, fast, and strong he did the Irimi Nage exactly as described in the video example (see video posted in the left hand column referenced earlier).

Now he said "I am just too old, it would take 10 minutes for me to walk that far to get behind uke," and as he said this we laughed and he had uke give an energetic strong strike which he flawlessly parried, the way only a lifetime practitioner can do, and he simply stayed in place as uke turned his back to him, lost his balance, and hit the floor as Frank dropped his arm for a perfect Irimi Nage. Thing of beauty for sure.

(Another point:)   Shikaku doesn't mean "blind" like we think of it “visually.”  It is also defined in terms of time and physical space.  I think of it as “dead angle” more which helps me, but still also has inaccurate connotations.”

In my training I am finding if I don't have Shikaku (Dead Angle) and kuzushi (Unbalancing), then really there is no technique without muscle ~ which goes against the prime objective of aikido.

Going forward in your training, try to find that dead angle that allows you to easily unbalance uke, and apply devastating technique without muscle or effort.  Think like the old men in our referenced stories who, in their wisdom, discovered that that the enthusiasm of youthful daring is no match for the aged and treacherous.  

We’d love to hear your observations and conclusions on the matter.


1.  Definition of shikaku provided courtesy of:

2.  Definition of Kuzushi provided courtesy of: wikipedia.

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As illustrated in the photograph, establishing a Shikaku Position (Dead Angle) Naturally Leads to an Effective Kuzushi (Unbalancing)



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In pretty much every martial arts system that I know of, there is this idea that the defender desires to be either “inside” or “outside” of the striking zone.  The benefits of being positioned “inside” allow you to jam punches before they have a chance to gain momentum.  Being “outside” is nice because you’re too far away to be struck by a punch.  Note that neither of these positions prohibit an attempted attack by uke.  This is why establishing the position of Shikaku is so valuable... Once you establish Shikaku ~ you are safe.

Objective Discussion on Aikido ~~~ Considers the history

~~~ Considers the objectives

~~~ Considers the modern applications

~~~ Explains why it is not used very often in MMA style contests

~~~ Uses Steven Seagal footage to make points.

Note the deep irimi tenkan entering movement @ 6 seconds leading to shikaku positioning... At this point, uke is toast.  His balance can be easily compromised in any direction, and regardless of the decisions uke makes, he will be a compliant partner for Spin Around, Pull Down from the Rear, etc.

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