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Significance of Toshu Randori and Tanto Randori

Source: Japan Aikido Association
Release Date: July 18, 2023
Authors: Fumiaki Shishida, Shogo Yamaguchi, Tadayuki Satoh 


In July 2019, the International Tomiki Aikido Federation (ITAF) established  Aikido Toshu (bare handed) Randori Competition Rules, and at the ITAF Festival in Malaga, Spain, held in the same year, the individual competition in Toshu Randori was conducted as an official event. In addition, both individual and team competitions were held at the 2023 ITAF Festival in Yokohama. In the midst of these recent developments, there has been some concern about the future of Tanto Randori. However, while the Japan Aikido Association (JAA) recognizes the need to improve the current situation of Tanto Randori, it has not considered abolishing it.

In this paper, we will explain how Kenji Tomiki shihan created the Aiki Randori method, how he started to study it, and how he transitioned from Toshu Randori style matches to Tanto Randori style matches from a historical and theoretical perspective. What has been clarified by this research is that both Randori methods are valuable assets that Tomiki left to future generations. We ask for your understanding.

The period covered by this research is from the founding of the Waseda University Aikido Club (WUAC) in 1958, when Tomiki shihan began his experimental research, to the 3rd Tri-University Aikido Tournament in 1968. The main sources used in this study are the “Journal of WUAC” published by the WUAC since 1961, as well as records of interviews with alumni. Honorific titles are omitted in the text.

toshu randori aikido match

1. Why is Toshu Randori important?

Tomiki Kenji almost completed the “Aiki Randori” method around 1961. The Aiki Randori method was conceived as a form of “Randori”, namely, Free-will practice to compete with each other, in a bare handed battle using techniques such as atemi-waza, kansetsu waza (joint techniques), and uki-waza (part of throwing techniques). Its spirit lies in the fact that they fight based on an interval in which their fingertips touch or not, when two people facing each other with their hands outstretched, in other words, the distance of Rikaku.

Of course, the competitors enter into this space and use techniques, but in that case, they are required to take a safe position and break the opponent balance so that they do not allow the opponent to counterattack. Therefore, keeping a distance (Rikaku) is the basic condition for the establishment of this randori method, and it can be said that it is the spirit of the establishment of the Aiki Randori. In this article, we will call this〈spirit of Rikaku〉.

Tomiki established
(1)“basic kata” (15 techniques, later 17 techniques) and “urawaza no kata” (10 techniques) to perform aiki randori,

(2)basic training methods for performing Aiki Randori such as unsoku, tegatana-awase, tegata movement, tegata-no-kazureshi and

(3)step-by- step practice methods such as kakari-geikoo, hikitate-geiko, and randori geiko.

In other words, the Aiki Randori method is a comprehensive practice system from basics to aiki randori. The fact that it is referred to overseas as the “Tomiki System” is highly regarded as an accurate description of its nature.

The epoch-making significance of the Aiki Randori method in the history of budo becomes clear by comparing it with the method of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, which emphasizes “randori”. Kano’s “randori method” of judo is a method of randori in which two fighters are held in close proximity to each other by the collar and sleeves of their dogi, using mainly nage waza (throwing techniques) and katame waza (locking techniques and choke). On the other hand, Aiki Randori is a method of bare handed randori based on a Rikaku-no-maai. Both randori methods are designed to complement each other within the jujutsu genre: jujutsu when practiced in combination (namely, judo randori method) and jujutsu when practiced at a distance (namely, Aiki Randori). In other words, if judo randori, which was born from jujutsu, is the first method of randori, Aiki Randori is designed to be positioned as the second method.

According to Tomiki, bujutsu means the art of defending against and attacking unlimited attacks. Since jujutsu is a martial art by nature, one must actually fend off the opponent’s atemi- waza such as strikes, thrusts, and other attacks before grappling with the opponent. Tomiki, who proclaimed that perfect defense is the essence of martial arts or budo, believed that if this essence was to be applied to jujutsu, it would be essential to practice both close grappling techniques, like judo, and techniques performed from a distance, like aikido. The epoch-making significance of the creation of the Aiki-Randori method lies in the fact that he tried to compensate for this deficiency and bring about a peaceful era.

Research on the Aiki Randori method was first studied as a system of competitions on equal terms, similar to judo (hand-on-hand) and kendo (weapon-on-weapon). This is what would later be known as Toshu Randori. In 1961, 17 “kihon no kata” (basic kata) of randori were established, and in 1962, 10 “ura waza no kata” (counter techniques) were established. The basic kata are so-called “Sen no kata”, which are characterized by the fact that one of the players makes the first move, while the ura-waza no kata are a technique that removes the technique that the opponent has set and at the same time switches to it, which can be said to be “Go no sen no kata”. However, in 1967, a turning point was reached, and a shift was made to a different type of martial arts style, “Tanto Randori,” a competition between a bare handed side and a Tanto side. What were the reasons for this shift? What was the history of Tanto randori? Let us examine these questions next.

tanto randori aikido match2.

2. Why is Tanto Randori necessary?

We can see the dynamic of the old days of bare handed Randori in the Randori attack and defense between Tetsu Ehara (Waseda University captain in 1965) and Masanobu Kitayama (Waseda University captain in 1968) in the 16mm film “Aikido
Competition” (produced by TBS Britannica), which was included in the beginning of the film. Takeshi Inoue, who knew the time, evaluates that “the period from 1964 to 1968 was the highest level of Toshu Randori”. However, these randori practices changed drastically when it came time to compete. In some cases, a student pulled back his chins when he was pushed by Shomen-ate, received with the forehead against Gyakumen-ate, or hugged an opponent to prevent the joint technique from being taken. Experts in judo and other martial arts reportedly criticized him harshly, saying, “At that distance, it’s easy to be thrown by judo techniques, and it’s strange to receive atemi with a face.” The first match using the bare handed method was held in 1962 at the Waseda University Aikido Festival as an intramural match of the university’s aikido club. An alumnus of the club who witnessed the event wrote the following.

〇Hiroaki Kogure(1958 graduate): “After three full minutes of fighting, they were out of breath, and they were too close to each other. Even when they were in a clinch, a situation that would have been effective in judo, they couldn’t do it, so the audience laughed at them.”

〇Seiji Tanaka (1962 graduate): “As for the problem of distance, they were too close to each other, and it became entangled every time they performed a technique. There were two or three games in which such unsightly conditions continued for a long time.”

It is understood that the matches were played in close proximity. Two years later, on April 20, 1964, the same thing happened in a match between teams. The record at that time states, “Tomiki-sensei gave us a severe scolding, telling us to move away from your opponent and take his wrist. Forbidden to play matches for the time being.”

In order to overcome the unsatisfactory situation of the competition in bare handed Randori, Tomiki turned his attention to Tanto Randori. In 1965, while practicing empty handed Randori, Tomiki began to practice Tanto Randori on a trial basis. Junichi Takakuwa, a sophomore member of the Waseda University club in 1965, says,  Around 1975, Tomiki spoke about the reasons for the conversion to Tanto randori.

Let us clarify his words at this time with an explanation. Around 1942 or 1943, when Tomiki returned to Japan from Manchuria and stopped by the Kodokan, headquarters of judo, he was ordered by Kodokan President Jiro Nango to put on protective gear and restrain a 3-dan kendo player from striking with a shinai (bamboo sword). At the time, Tomiki was a member of the Kodokan’s research committee on techniques while maintaining distance in judo. Tomiki, whose training at this point seemed to be focused on wooden sword training and kata practice, he “was unable to step into the opponent's defense zone without being attacked by a shinai”. From this experience, Tomiki realized the necessity of randori, and that “If the opponent is a Tanto, I could make it even with my bare hands”. Tomiki then stated, “These things accumulated, and I began to have students hold the Tanto.” However, it did not immediately shift to Tanto Randori. In the first place, there had been no school matches against other universities using the Toshu Randori method, and research into matches had only just begun at the WUAC’s internal matches at the Waseda Festival in 1962.

Two years later, on April 30, 1964, in matches between teams held within the club, students were “severely scolded by Tomiki Sensei for coming too close and taking the wrists at a distance,” and were “forbidden to fight for the time being.” In November and December of the following year, a red-and-white match (a competitions held between contestant that are divided into two teams) was held within the WUAC. Masatomo Nakatomi of the Seijo University Aikido Club, who observed the match, wrote,“I completely agree with what Tomiki sensei pointed out at the review meeting that there is room for more research into the content of the match. The match did not bring good results. What broke through Tomiki’s agony was the students ’thirst for competition. In 1963, Seijo University and Kokushikan University established aikido societies (later promoted to clubs). When aikido clubs were formed at Seijo University and Kokushikan University in 1963 (later promoted to clubs, both with Shihan Kenji Tomiki as instructor), Waseda University students came to the clubs for guidance and to help them become independent. Tsunemitsu Naito, captain of WUAC in 1966, consulted with the aikido clubs of Seijo University and Kokushikan University to realize an aikido tournament by Toshu Randori between the three universities. The tournament record  shows that many techniques were used in the tournament. However, the results of the tournament were far from satisfactory to Tomiki, who was disappointed that the level of the match was still low.

The time to take the first step toward Tanto randori matches seems to have been in the fall of 1965, when Tomiki’s senior apprentice, Hideo Ohba, said,“I have already been studying Tanto versus bare hand fight training for several years.” Two years later, on November 12, 1967, the Second Three University Aikido Tournament was held, and for the first time, a Tanto division was added to the Toshu division, and team competitions were held in each division. In later years, Michiyoshi Toyomizu, who was in charge of the first tournament, explained how the Tanto division was introduced:“I thought it was necessary to have something unique and different from judo matches, so when I suggested that add a match in the format of bare hand vs. Tanto to the tournament, Tomiki said he would give it a try. From that point onwards, Tanto Randori was added to the practice.”

This may have been the case. But the randorization of techniques for weapons (especially a knife or Tanto) was latent in Tomiki’s mind, as we have seen earlier, and he continued his research from Toshu Randori to Tanto randori matches. After the second Aikido
tournament between the three universities, Ohba made the following plea to the alumni of the Toshu Randori generation for their cooperation in the Tanto Randori research that Tomiki had embarked on.

It has been 10 years since I started studying Aikido Randori and its matches. Randori has become a technique that is really wonderful.  At one point, Tomiki Sensei had been thinking about whether or not he should devote himself only to Randori without competition, but finally, in the spirit of a young man, he decided to start a match (competition). Four or five years passed in the blink of an eye. The first difficulty was that when it came time for the match, students could not get his techniques right, and their 17 techniques were not as sharp as they were in Randori.

Research into protective gear is being carried out in parallel to prevent injury during matches and to make techniques easier to apply. In addition, since the rubber Tanto currently in use is not sufficient, we are hurrying to complete the research on the Tanto
together with the members of the club.

As a modernization of Aikido, Tomiki has taken the seventeen techniques that have been developed through Toshu Randori one step further in his research so that they can be used in“weapon-to-bare hand matches,”or in other words,“knife-to-bare hand matches”instead of Toshu Randori.

This is the beginning of a new field of research that has not yet been explored by those of you who have been devoted to the development of Toshu Randori and have been working diligently to this end.

At first glance, it may seem as if all of your efforts up to this point have come to nothing, but this is by no means the case. With this development as a foundation, the modernization of the level of “Mutou no Maki”, where weapons vs. unarmed matches were traditionally considered only as virtuoso performances, will be completed. I would like to ask those of you who have already graduated from our club to unite with the current members and cooperate with him in his efforts to perfect the excellence of kobudo
in the modern age.

The following year, in December 1968, Tomiki took up the pen himself and wrote the following about the reasons for his progression from Toshu Randori to Tanto randori and his thoughts on Tanto randori research. The essence of competitive judo techniques is to subdue an unarmed opponent without the use of weapons.

However, the peculiarity of competitive aikido lies in the control of an opponent with a Tanto without the use of weapons. In other words, it is a competition of bare handed versus Tanto . Needless to say, this “technique,” although historically an ancient jujutsu, should occupy a position as a third martial art, in contrast to kendo, which fights sword-to-sword, and judo, which fights bare-handed. This is because competitive Aikido has many “techniques” and variations thereof that are not found in either judo or kendo. In terms of technique, it is a synthesis of the principles of judo and kendo. There are two overlapping reasons why that [bare handed versus Tanto randori practice method has not been established to take advantage of the special qualities of“atemi-waza”
and“hiji-waza(joint techniques)”.

1 The“deed”must be dangerous in order to practice with free will activity on both sides.

2 The technical nature of controlling weapons with one's bare hands makes it difficult to make it a competition with equal conditions.

The reason why we must overcome these difficult circumstances and make it a competition is that in martial arts practice, it is difficult to acquire the function of a live “waza” unless one learns the procedures through kata and not only repeats them one sidedly but also practices Randori through the free will of both practitioners. This is because it is also necessary to go one step further and experience a match where the mind and heart spark each other.

Since its founding, our club has devoted itself unreservedly to this ideal. I hope that the members of our club will continue to work as one to further our research in the future. Tomiki’s reasons for not adopting Tanto randori were his perception of the risks involved
and his belief that competitions should be held on equal terms. Thus, it is understood that the introduction of Tanto Randori was done after careful consideration.

3. Future direction - Significance of Tanto and Toshu Randori

(1)Significance of the Tanto Randori
Following Tomiki’s decision, after the 3rd Three University Aikido Tournament, which
was dominated by Tanto randori, students and aikido enthusiasts actively tried to make
use of the “spirit of Rikaku”. The reality, however, did not turn out that way, and bad
scenes similar to those in the Toshu Randori gradually appeared, with both the Tanto side
and the bare handed side trying hard to keep their bodies stiff in close proximity to each
other. This new method of competition was also criticized harshly. Some people criticized
this new method of competition, saying that it could be easily thrown with judo footwork,
or that since victory was often decided by a Tanto thrust, it was not an aikido competition
at all, but rather a“Tanto competition”. Of course, reforms were made in response to this.
Scores were given only for techniques on the bare handed side, and only“Toshu ken”(the
right to substitute for the bare handed side) could be taken away in Tanto thrusting.47 This
means that even if the Tanto thrust is good, it does not lead to points. In other words, it
was thought that this would avoid the criticism that it was a“Tanto competition”. In fact,
Tomiki was relieved by this rule revision and passed away while anticipating new
developments. However, a problem arose even here. The need for good Tanto thrusts
remained unchanged even in contests where the competitors were fighting for the right to
wrestle. If one player had good Tanto thrusts and good bodywork, he would monopolize
most of the time of the first and second halves of the match, and he could no longer
ensure equality with his opponents. In response to these problems, the rules were restored
after Tomiki’s death.

The next reform was to allow the Tanto side to use“kaeshi-waza”or ura-waza, as a counter
technique. Shishida, one of the two masters at the time who was involved in this reform,
believed that if both the Tanto and bare handed sides were allowed to perform bare
handed techniques, the techniques would be more aggressive and the competition itself
would be more active. This created a tense situation between the Tanto side and the
opponent, and techniques such as hiki- otoshi were used more effectively, and it is true
that some of these techniques have advanced. However, the real serious problem was the
normalization of situations in which both competitors(especially the Tanto side)faced
each other head-on and attempted to counter-attack in close proximity, in such a way that
judo footwork could easily reach them. Even the recognition that this was a strange state
in which the“spirit of Rikaku”had been lost was lost. What accelerated this trend was the
fervor for victory, especially in school matches, where winning within the rules was good

Tomiki sought uniqueness in the martial arts in Aiki Randoris or Aikido Competitions.
This is to maintain the characteristics of Aikido Randori, which can assert its value
relative to judo, kendo, karate, and other forms of martial arts. This has been the case
since the days of Toshu Randori. While we have a long history of Tanto Randori, we must
not forget that its foundation is based on the training of both the left and right sides of the
body through Toshu Randori. After the 1969 Aikido Tournament between the five
universities, Ohba said,“The characteristic of recent Randori practice is that, in addition to
the traditional bare handed Randori, which we have been practicing with particular
emphasis, we have changed to‘Tanto Randori,’which is of course based on thorough
mastery of left-right techniques. The recent Randori practice is characterized by the fact
that, in addition to the Toshu Randori that we used to focus on, we are now mainly
practicing Tanto Randori, after having fully mastered both left and right techniques.”48
Ohba’s deliberate emphasis on the phrase“with full mastery of left and right techniques”
conveys the message that the foundation of Tanto Randori is, both artistically and
historically, Toshu Randori. The key to improving Tanto Randori will be the spirit of
Rikaku, the actual practice of techniques that enable the realization of the brilliance of
atemi-waza, kansetsu-waza techniques, and uki-waza, and above all, the revision of the
referee’s rules to take advantage of this spirit.

(2)Significance of Toshu Randori
The significance and advantages of Toshu Randori have been clearly discussed by Shogo
Yamaguchi at50. Table 1 summarizes his discussion. We would like to consider this with
reference to this table.

Advantages, Problems and Countermeasures table

Yamaguchi explains that these advantages of Toshu Randori are the result of the fact that
“in short, a variety of techniques can be deployed, and the match becomes a place where
the real thrill of the competition can be fully enjoyed”. This is an important element when
considering the format of the competition. This is an important factor when considering
the format of the competition. The realization of competition on“equal terms,”as Tomiki
calls it, is an important element in order to be welcomed by people in society who are
accustomed to competitions on equal terms, such as judo and kendo, without feeling any
sense of discomfort.

Yamaguchi’s awareness of the issues of improving Tanto Randori and revitalizing Toshu
Randori gradually became shared by the experts of the JAA, and in 2010, a trial study of
the ideal form of Toshu Randori was begun by Tadayuki Satoh, a JAA Shihan, and other
volunteers. At the 2013 Kawasaki International Convention, the Association’s research on
Toshu Randori was introduced, and a demonstration including the trial rules was
presented. The results of these studies were further discussed mainly by the Education
Department of the JAA, and in 2019, the Tomiki Aikido International
Tournament(Festival)was held in Spain, and the adoption of Toshu Randori was realized
as an official competition event.

From the above discussion, it is clear that we must respect the efforts of our
predecessors, maintain both Tanto Randori and Toshu Randori, examine the
methods of training and the way they should be practiced, improve the rules of
competition, and have a strong belief that the competitors themselves will
establish an aikido competition that utilizes the“spirit of Rikaku”.


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