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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: 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.

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(Softcover, 289 pages with 427 photos and illustrations)

(Shipping $5.00
within US)

Complete Aikido
Aikido Kyohan: The Definitive Guide to the Way of Harmony

By Roy Suenaka and Christopher Watson


This book illustrates aikido at its best-- a powerful self-defense art. It is also a historical gold mine. The technical part of the book details effective technique through photos and descriptions. And Suenaka has proven his art. He introduced aikido to Okinawa, the island birthplace of karate where challenges were plentiful. Suenaka is also an early pioneer of American aikido who studied under aikido's founder Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, as well as Koichi Tohei.

Karate-ka will also find the book interesting since it details the author's studies in other arts including boxing, judo, jujutsu and several forms of karate, most notably under the Okinawan karate legend Hohan Soken. Also detailed are Suenaka's early years of aikido in Hawaii, and his perspective on the rift that developed between Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Tohei, Tohei's separation from the Aikikai (Ueshiba's Association), and the early development of Tohei's Ki Society.

Read review.

About the Authors:

Roy Yukio Suenaka, founder of Wadokai Aikido, is one of contemporary budo’s most experienced practitioners and best-kept secrets. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Suenaka Sensei’s martial instruction began under his father, Warren Kenji Suenaka, who taught his son budo basics and carefully selected his primary martial tutors. These included such legends as Okazaki-ryu Kodenkan Jiu-jitsu founder Henry Seishiro Okazaki, Kosho-ryu Kempo’s legendary James Masayoshi Mitose, judoka (and later, aikidoka) Yukiso Yamamoto, and celebrated kendoka Shuji Mikami, from whom Suenaka Sensei received a nidan (2nd degree black belt).

Suenaka Sensei began his aikido study with Koichi Tohei when in 1953 Tohei visited Hawaii to teach, and continued his study directly under Founder Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei at the Aikikai Hombu for eight years beginning in 1961. Suenaka Sensei received a rare aikido menkyo kaiden (master-level proficiency) teaching certificate from O’Sensei, and became the first person to open a successful aikido dojo in Okinawa. He also commenced eight years of private study with renowned Matsumura Seito and Hakutsuru Shorin-ryu Karate-do Grandmaster Hohan Soken, receiving from him the rank of rokudan (6th degree black belt). In addition, Suenaka Sensei continued his judo and jiu-jitsu education at the Kodokan under famed Meijin Kazuo Ito, who personally sponsored Suenaka Sensei’s promotion to sandan (3rd degree black belt) in judo and jiu-jitsu.

In 1972, Roy Suenaka relocated to Charleston, S.C., where he served as Southeastern U.S. director for Koichi Tohei’s International Ki Society until 1975, when Suenaka resigned to form the American International Ki Development and Philosophical Society (AIKDPS). He currently teaches Suenaka-ha Tetsugaku-ho Wadokai Aikido and Matsumura Seito and Hakutsuru Shorin-ryu Karate-do. He is author of the best-selling Complete Aikido, and in 2003 celebrated his 50th year of aikido study. Suenaka is an advisor to For more information: Suenaka School of Martial Arts, 813-A Highway 17 South (Savannah Highway), Charleston, South Carolina 29407, 843-324-5260 or

Christopher Watson is a writer, audio performer and producer. A student of Suenaka Sensei’s since 1988, he is co-author of Suenaka Sensei’s book, Complete Aikido.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

aikido technique, breath throw, koyu-nage, self-defense, martial arts throws

Read more articles by Roy Suenaka and Christopher Watson

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