Common Elements in Japanese Budo

Antonino Certa devoted over 50 years of his life to the study of Budo, and since 1991 has undertaken a deep and dedicated study of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu at the Daitokan in Abashiri. Over the years the humble and bashful Masters of Abashiri have passed on their knowledge to him in a direct disciple/master relationship, based on the only condition that their art would be correctly passed on to future generations. Antonino Certa has agreed to share part of that knowledge in a series of articles for Aikido Italia Network


I believe that all Japanese martial arts have some elements in common. I have extrapolated eight of them, and these are my brief descriptions.

Seme (psychological pressure)

Seme means applying physical/psychological pressure to one’s opponent by moving in decisively and threateningly.

There are three basic seme types:

  1. Ki wo korosu: Breaking the opponent’s spirit;
  2. Waza wo korosu: To overcome the opponent’s strategy by changing the time or distance of the fight;
  3. Ken wo korosu: To overcome the opponent’s defence (his kamae), lightly touching him to distract him, faking a movement, pushing his arm.
Antonino Certa demonstrates the application of the concept of Seme, applying physical/psychological pressure to the opponent

Kamae (Stance) 

Kamae means an attitude or posture; it falls into two categories: physical positions and inner attitudes. Although, in general, the use of this term refers to a practitioner’s physical position, it is important to realize that this is the outward manifestation of his inner or mental attitude, one determines the other. In practice, the position taken is determined by the relationship with the opponent. Example: in kenjutsu, there are five basic kamae called goho-no-gamae, which consist of jodan, chudan, gedan, hasso and waki.

Ma-ai (Harmonising distance) 

The spatial distance between oneself and the opponent. The gap between the two opponents. There are three basic theoretical distances:

  1. Chikama (short distance) [between 0 – 50 centimetres approx.]

This distance is called chika-ma-ai (close distance). At this distance, an attack can easily reach your opponent, but at the same time, your opponent has the same opportunity to hit you.

  1. Chuma (medium distance) – In Kendo Issoku-itto-no-ma-ai [2 metres approx.]

This distance allows hitting the opponent by stepping forward and also to evade the opponent by stepping back.

  1. Toma (long distance) [more than 2 metres]

This distance is referred to as toma-ma-ai. A distance that is greater than chu-ma-ai, from which the opponent’s attack cannot reach you and, at the same time, yours cannot reach him.

Mittsu no Sen (the three initiatives)

  1. Go no sen means winning by responding to an opponent who came to attack us. It is a response technique with which we win by delivering our technique “late” with respect to the opponent’s attack. Go no sen does not mean being passive and leaving the initiative to the opponent, but it involves that while you see his attack you remain calm and then fight back. [LATE]
  2. Sen sen no sen (also pronounced Sen zen no sen) means responding in turn to the opponent’s attack the moment it starts. In practice, we respond to an attack with another attack; or with a parade-counterattack carried without interruption (no downtime between the two actions). [AT THE SAME TIME]
  3. Sen or Sen no sen is a technique with which you win by attacking your opponent in advance. The attack starts by catching the onset of the opponent’s ki, which arises in the instant in which he has already made his decision to attack. It means achieving victory by attacking first or attacking against the opponent’s attack intention, at the same instant that the opponent moves. [IN ADVANCE]
Kato sensei

Waza (techniques) 

Waza signifies any set of physical movements, with any part of our body, which allows us to defeat an opponent even stronger than us. A technique is the best possible movement for our martial action with the least use of physical force. The effectiveness of a technique depends precisely on the fact that our movement is efficient, that is, that it has the maximum motor capacity (biomechanical) performed with the least use of one’s own energy. Performing a technique with exaggerated and indiscriminate use of muscle strength is not delivering a waza.

Metsuke (peripheral vision) 

In the kamae phase, it is necessary to have an overview of the opponent and not to focus on a single part of his body. This concept is known as Enzan no metsuke. When you are about to attack your opponent or are waiting, your gaze can easily betray your action, leaving you open to a counterattack. Imagine being looking at a distant mountain, perceiving every detail of its conformation as a whole, not looking at just a small part of it.

Zanshin (continuous concentration)

Tradotto come “continua concentrazione” è la parte finale di ogni tecnica. Tutta l’energia impiegata nella fase fisica e mentale per sconfiggere il nostro avversario non si può fermare all’istante, essa “si deve raffreddare” nel tempo. E, cosa più importante, noi non sappiamo se la nostra azione ha avuto successo al 100% – esempio: se un taglio della nostra spada sia stato definitivo per sconfiggere l’ avversario. Dobbiamo continuare a stare attenti ad una sua possibile reazione anche dopo, quando la nostra tecnica si è conclusa, oppure se altri avversari ci stanno attaccando.

Takuma Hisa’s zanshin was not very beautiful, he raised both hands in the air, just as Takeda Sokaku had taught him. One day I asked him why and his answer was:” Is your enemy always one man? Zanshin is the inner attitude of being cautious and always careful, not only with your visible enemies but also with the invisible ones. One or two enemies may hide behind something and may attack you from behind. Samurai had lived in this situation, so zanshin is the most important aspect of a waza in order to survive. I raise both hands to tell the invisible enemy clearly that I am alert and ready for his possible attack. If you focus only on the visible enemy, you will be easily defeated“. [1]

Potente emissione sonora (Kiai) di Takeda Tokimune

Kiai (emission of sound energy)

The so-called shout allows gathering one’s energies fully, even those that we are not aware of having, which add more power to our martial technique. All this is expressed through the action of the emission of sound energy using precise syllables. This action should come from the lower abdomen, hara, and not only from our vocal cords. There are several types of kiai:

  1. to distract the opponent and/or frighten him;
  2. to enhance our biomechanical action;
  3. Kiai of the challenge;
  4. Kiai of the victory.

Kime (extreme decision)

A technique performed with kime defines a martial action performed with the utmost decision and determination. All the action takes place in an attempt to end the physical confrontation as soon as possible, and with maximum damage to the body of our opponent. The action of kime is not only present in the various styles of Karate but is also present in all the other Japanese martial arts. In Kyudo, there is a maxim that says “an arrow, a life“. In Daito-ryu the saying “three steps, two seconds and one tatami” summarizes the action of a technique performed with extreme martial resolve.

Copyright Antonino Certa ©2020
All rights reserved. Any unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited


[1] Taken from an interview with Amatsu Yutaka shihan

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