The first thing you will be taught when you start practicing Aikido is the “hanmi” stance. Hanmi literally means “half-body”. From a practical standpoint this means that only half of ones body is presented to an adversary. The importance of the hanmi stance cannot be overemphasised. In fact, the founder of Aikido adopted hanmi as a founding principle around which his entire art is organised!
It can often be heard in dojos that Aikido begins and ends with Hanmi, an important aspect of daily practice! Saito Sensei mentions that Aikido is the only martial art that is built upon this Hanmi position, and that when one maintains Hanmi there are no mistakes. In partner practice with the ken (sword) for example, it is possible to avoid an ai-uchi, or mutual kill situation, when one maintains hanmi.
The below two photographs (c.1938) are of Aikido Founder in the hanmi position. (Please also take note of the difference in “ma-ai”, or combative distance, between the photographs.)
So what is this hanmi position?
The shape of hanmi is the tri-angle. Knees are relaxed, weight is shifted naturally.
Balance – where is the balance? – between the two feet, easy to move feet and hips and to face any direction. Movement can be done in a smooth, fluid, balanced way.
Feet shoulder width apart, or slightly larger.
Don’t just have your feet in hanmi position, it is your whole body that is in hanmi! Hips are approximately 45 degrees.
The founder said: “The movements of your hips depend on the movements of your feet.” If you do not assume the correct hanmi position, you cannot move your hips freely.
The hanmi stance does not differ if one is in migi-hanmi (right-hanmi) or hidari-hanmi (left-hanmi).
From Traditional Aikido: Volume 5, 1976, p.30
I suggest you position your eyes in such a way that you will see the upper rear of your partner’s right shoulder [when he\she is in right hanmi]. Your eyes are not supposed to be fixed far from or near your partner but should rather grasp him as a whole. The founder used to explain as follows:
“Don’t look at the eyes of your partner because your mind tends to be absorbed by them. Don’t look at his sword, either, because your Ki (Spirit) will get involved with it. Don’t look at him because you absorb his Ki by so doing. The essence of a real martial art lies in the buildup of magnetic power to absorb your partner as a whole. Having mastered the art, all I have to do is just stand where I am.”
The above remarks explicitly point to the ultimate stage of attainment where no posture is considered necessary in Aikido practice. Such stage, however, is far beyond the reach of beginners.
Some distinctions: ai-hanmi vs gyaku-hanmi
It is very useful in the beginning to pay attention to the starting position either as ai-hanmi or gyaku hanmi. Later on however it does no matter in which hanmi one starts with, it is possible to move freely in any direction. Here is a youtube link which demonstrates the distinction, although it is in Swedish –
This article is in process of being updated. Further topics that will be covered are: Hitoemi, Kenkagoshi, Jo-no-kamae