In The Aikido and Zen Dojo:
The Last of Aikido’s Three Pillars – Timing


Timing is everything. For the last couple weeks we’ve discussed the three pillars of Aikido:

  1. Footwork
  2. Balance
  3. Timing

This week we will be looking at the last of them – timing In a earlier blog, we looked at the analogy of the pedestrian and the car. And timing was the idea of moving at the right time. To move too early was to risk not knowing the intentions of the driver. To move too late was to get hit.

So, how is Aikido timing manifested in a self-defense situation?

The fact is, no one can consistently keep attacking for any length of time. (Forget what you see on TV.) We all breathe. aikido three pillars timingAttacking expends energy. And we all have to catch our breaths and replace the energy that we expend. And actually, this is irrespective of whether we are attacking or defending. I like to call it ’emptying the tank and filling the tank’.

In many kick and punch arts, both participants are essentially in sync – meeting force with force – both inhaling and exhaling at about the same times. Both exhaling as one strikes and one blocks. Both inhaling, as they prepare for the next go. In Aikido , it is quite different. When an uke (attacking partner) is pressing the attack, he/she is exhaling (emptying the tank). At this same time, nage (the defending partner) is withdrawing or turning away and inhaling (filling the tank). With this particular timing, the Aikidoist is soft and yielding when initially attacked – firm and decisive when making the finishing throw. In the truest sense, nage is yin (soft) when uke is yang (hard) and vice versa. This is one of the prime factors in the ultimate undoing of a stronger attacker by a weaker defender.

Breathing IS Timing

Finally, realize that breathing is timing. The Japanese term is kokyu, which is used in the context of both breathing and timing. And so, we constantly practice coordinating our breathing with our fundamental skills – when to inhale (softness), when to exhale (firmness). Inhale as we withdraw, exhale as we advance. Inhale as we turn, exhale as we stop, inhale as we raise up, exhale as we cut down. And eventually, all Aikido techniques are simply executed in the context of normal breathing – an inhale and an exhale. But most importantly, this breathing is the opposite of our attackers. This breathing keeps us out of a natural conflict.

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