Kaiten nage is a fascinating technique. We can learn many lessons while performing it but I think we often miss one of the most important. It takes place during the uchi form but not the soto. Rather, it is more obvious in the uchi form. It concerns where the elbow in kaiten nage goes.
The specific part of the form that we are going to examine here is after the entry under the arm. Just at the point where nage turns to face the same direction as uke but before any downward cut is made. At this point in the technique it is quite common for nage to make an extremely dangerous error.
When the turn is completed the positioning of uke’s and nage’s elbows is, surprisingly, critical to nage’s successful technique.
Remember that in aikido nage only performs techniques because uke makes them. Somehow, uke is blocking a fight ending manoeuvre forcing nage to continue doing aikido. Granted, there is a lot more to this interaction than I have just described. The important thing though, is that uke is blocking something, somewhere, that stops nage. In this case that block comes because uke keeps hold of nage’s wrist. The question we need to ask, the one that exposes the common flaw, is why does uke not let go?
The answer to that is actually obvious, if the technique is being carried out properly. Uke doesn’t let go because if they do then nage will elbow them in the face. This ability relies completely on nage correctly taking the centre line after the turn and before the cut down.
Where The Elbow Should Be
Nage’s elbow in kaiten nage should be over uke’s centre as shown in the image above. On the surface of it this may seem strange, as it would appear to take the arm out of the centre line; however, with correct body alignment as well this does not happen. When the elbow is over uke’s centre nage has taken complete control of their line and is now in a dominant position. This position also means that if uke lets go then nage will strike with the elbow to the face. Nage forces uke to make the decision to hold onto the wrist, failure to do so is dangerous for them. This does not mean that if uke lets go nage must strike with the elbow. It merely means that uke will believe that nage will do it. The threat presented by the elbow is enough.
Where The Elbow Often Is
However, if nage fails to take the centre line after the turn and doesn’t position their elbow correctly, then the natural settling point is with uke’s elbow over nage’s face. This can be seen in the image below. Suddenly the situation is reversed but with one major difference. Nage is not holding on to uke at this point, which means that there is nothing blocking the elbow strike. Uke can safely let go and can safely strike nage in the face with an elbow.
More than the danger of the strike though is the concept of balance. At the start of the technique nage will take uke’s balance and they should keep it throughout the technique. If they fail to take the centre line then uke can regain their balance. Correctly positioning the elbow maintains the collapse of uke’s structure/balance and allows the safety of the entire technique.
This is a surprisingly common error with kaiten nage. It is extremely easy to gloss over it as the technique is naturally flowing with large circles so it looks pretty. Unfortunately if nage allows this error to take place then they have, as always, broken Rule #1 – Don’t get hit. Allowing the elbow to drift away from uke’s centre line will cause nage to sacrifice their own position and lead to a martially dangerous technique.
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