The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #9 Chains Of Motion / Commutive Locking

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Commutive Locking

I originally called this principle “Chains Of Motion,” which quite literally explains what the principle is all about.

However, I started using a different term about twelve years ago after hearing Don Angier, Soke of Yanagi Ryu, talk about this principle. He called it “Commutive Locking,” which I thought sounded a lot better. Since I often defer to his expertise on specific elements of the martial art I do, I switched to his terminology.

Recently it has been brought to my attention recently that Mr. Angier’s terminology might be inaccurate. “Commutive” is not a proper word, although there is something called a “commutator” that is used in the sequential “control of current to produce torque” in an electric motor. It is possible that Mr. Angier uses this term as a metaphor—referring to the sequential movement which is essential in this principle—but I have no first hand knowledge if this assertion is accurate. [See note below]

Chances are that a better term for this principle would be “Cumulative Locking,” which I’ve been informed is a better translation of a Japanese term (unfortunately, I do not know what that term is) that relates to this principle. In this instance, cumulative is defined as the act of following successively.

However, the name of this principle really isn’t as important as understanding it fully, or realizing its importance. To be very honest, understanding this principle is absolutely critical in any art that utilizes joint locks, projections (throws), and/or restraining holds.

The simplest explanation of Chains Of Motion is: One joint locks up another joint which locks up another joint. It is sort of like taking a length of chain and twisting it until it become all knotted up.

In other words one starts twisting at point “A,” which ultimately effects part “B,” and so on and so on until there is so much tension that the chain can no longer twist either B must let go or the chain will break.

To illustrate this concept in a martial art context I like to use a commonly done technique called kotegaeshi. kotegaeshi clearly demonstrates how the bones, muscles, tendons, and joints of the body are rotated to the point where they lock up and become “knotted” like the chain.

In the first picture, the arm is in its natural state. As the hand and wrist are rotated outwards the ulna and radius bones lock at the elbow: thus rotating the humerus, which in turn ultimately locks at the shoulder joint. The end result is that the uke either falls with the rotating force or his arm/shoulder joint is injured—often at multiple points.

While the above is a very simplified explanation of the process, it clearly shows the progressions from the point of applied force (the hand) to the shoulder. In order to fully understand the specific body mechanics involved in this technique and others like it, I strongly suggest that one reads an anatomy book.

The whole concept behind the principle of Chains of Motion is that he human skeleton can be divided into two parts.

I refer to the first part as those joints that form “Open Chains.” By this I mean joints that that can move independently without causing other joints to move in reaction.

The second division is called “Closed Chains,” which I use to describe joints that when moved cause other joints to move through reactive motion.

These “Chains” are further divided as follows:

  • Chain #1 – Torso (head, neck, and trunk)
  • Chain #2 – Upper Extremities (shoulders and arms)
    This chain is determined by the movement and structure of the collarbone, scapula, and the connection of the arm to the trunk.
    Upper extremities have the greatest range of motion.
  • Chain #3 – Lower Extremities (pelvis and legs)
    This chain is determined by the connections of the upper leg to the torso from the hips to the femur to the knees to the fibula and tibia down through the ankles to the feet.

In the example of kotegaeshi, “Chain #2 Upper Extremities” is being manipulated in a specific, sequential order. As a result, a predetermined and repeatable reaction occurs. It requires very little force, and pain is not necessary to make the technique work.

However, as previously stated, this is just a superficial description of what is occurring and what the principle of Chains of Motion is all about. Unfortunately, in many styles of martial arts, kotegaeshi is simply completed by torquing the wrist to the point where it hurts so much that the person falls in order to prevent the wrist from breaking. In this case, kotegaeshi becomes nothing more than a joint lock—a joint lock designed to attack the wrist.

From a martial arts perspective, where a technique’s merits must be judged on effectiveness, simply doing kotegaeshi as a joint lock misses the point. There is a big difference between doing simple “Joint Locks” and doing “Chains Of Motion”/”Commutive Locking” even though both methods are often referred to as kansetsu waza.

Kansetsu Waza

When I was younger, my teacher often referred to all joint locks as kansetsu waza (literally, “joint technique”). However, specific kansetsu waza were often categorized by the joint used and/or the technique(s) used to manipulate them. For example, wrist techniques were kote waza, finger locks were yubi waza, and arm locks were ude waza.

According to my teacher, kansetsu waza, was a generic term that referred to exploiting mechanical weak points of the body by applying force at one specific point, or by manipulating a joint (or joints) to their limit (past their normal range of motion). These kansetsu waza could be used as a means to project an opponent (break their balance), restrain an opponent, or injure/break a specific part of the body.

However, since my teacher’s death in 1989, I have come to discover that there are two main types of kansetsu waza applications. The first is the easiest to teach, and is the most often seen method. This method basically involves twisting, rotating, or bending a specific joint in a manner that moves the joint either past its normal range of motion or directly opposed to its direction of motion.

The second method is subtler and often only demonstrated by senior practitioners who have transcended the first type or locks. In this form, joints are manipulated precisely using proper sequential movement and alignment, thus locking the entire skeletal frame.

Clearly, the first method is easier to accomplish, yet often requires more strength in order to be effective. The main drawback to these methods is that while one is applying such techniques, the opponent can often feel the lock being applied, giving him a greater chance of launching a counter-defense.

The second method, however, requires a lot of practice and finesse to do properly. It also requires proper comprehension of human anatomy, physics, and physiology. Yet, while more difficult to accomplish, when done properly these methods require little or no strength. And by the time one’s opponent realizes what is happening it is too late to launch a counter-defense.

In addition, during the application of these second methods, the stimulus of pain is not required. It is not even necessarily an objective. It may be a welcome byproduct, but it is not the primary goal, since pain can be subjective. (Note: no real martial art technique, in any martial art system, should ever rely on pain in order to be effective. NEVER!)

Originally, I was going to spend a lot of time writing about anatomy and physiology in order to explain the principle of Chains of Motion to the fullest of my ability. However, that would require pages and pages of text, and I would still have to leave a ton of material out. That would not be fair to those individuals who seriously want to learn.

To be honest, I am often shocked at how few martial artists, even extremely highly ranked ones, ever bother to pick up and read an anatomy book. And if they do, they rarely study it in depth. It’s a fact that never ceases to amaze me.

I mean, I realized that understanding human anatomy was essential to fully understand my martial art techniques in my early teens. That was long before teaching others was something I ever considered. For me, understanding how the body works—its structure and its limitations—was crucial in order for me to be more effective with less effort.

Sure, my teacher covered the various applicable sciences in depth—to the best of his ability and with a serious language barrier between us. But seeking out even more information and studying different sciences in detail is what truly separates martial artists from martial hobbyists.

Okay, I’m getting preachy and off topic. My point is that if you study anatomy, you will understand how to do the principle of Chains of Motion. The simple truth is that compared to all of the principles I have covered so far, this is one of the easiest to understand and—with some serious trial and error—to learn.

[Editors note (for the terminologically inclined): There seems to be a lot of confusion in the Aikido and Jujutsu worlds as to exactly what Mr. Angier calls this principle. This is presumably because “commutive” is not a word in the dictionary.

One most often sees this principle referred to as “Commutative Locking,” even though that is not very appropriate in a literal sense (it would imply you can do the lock in any order). I have also heard “Communicative Locking,” which sounds quite nice. It has been speculated that “Cumulative Locking” would be closest to the original concept.

It is possible Mr. Angier intended to use the term “cumulative.” He also might have purposely created a new word to make a metaphor with “commutator” or some other concept. See this thread for reference and details.]



Back in March and July of this year when my integrity as a martial artist was being attacked on forums such as and I was ridiculed for comments I made regarding my affiliations with certain Martial Art Associations.

Basically, the ridicule came from a disclaimer I made which was posted as follows:

While a member of these organizations it does not mean he involves himself in any of their politics, supports or justifies their positions on the merits, abilities, or skills of instructors related, or not related, within their organizations, or believes one organization has more validity to represent the arts than another.

The people discussing this matter were under the assumption that I have the type of ego where I felt I was doing these organizations a favor by being a member of them. They were also under the assumption that I paid to be a member of these groups.

First of all, I’m not doing anyone any favors by joining their group. I’m just a small fish in a big pond.

Then again, hardly any of these organizations have done me any favors by being a member in their group either. In fact, the only benefit I have received by being a member is the knowledge that I should be extremely wary of affiliating myself with any organization, period.

The sad fact is that in the “business” end of the martial arts there are many instructors with over-inflated egos who are only out to make a buck. In addition, there are many others who judge you by the company you keep.

Of course, it was because of these reasons that I was open about who listed me as a member of their group. “Hiding’ the info, which is readably available to anyone searching for it, would just have looked worse. I have nothing to hide and put the info out there myself.

However, by doing so, I realized I had to put a disclaimer since I often don’t agree with many of the practices martial art organizations seem to perpetuate (meaningless ranks, promises to help increase enrollment, upper level training, etc.).

I realize that to the reader this topic may seem as old news and that I’m beating a dead horse, but things have happened recently to remind me that one can in fact become a member of an organization without ever requesting it.

* * *

About two weeks ago I received a large envelope from Germany. I thought it was from my mother who is there on vacation (lucky her). However, what was inside surprised the hell out of me.

The first item was a letter of introduction written by Mr. Siegfried Boedeker, informing me I was now a life member of the Nippon Yawara Ryu Aiki-Ju-Jitsu Renmei.

Now, I have no idea who Mr. Boedecker is or what his organization is all about. Nor do I believe we have ever met. In fact, I doubt he would be able to pick me out in a room if we happened to cross paths. This was absolutely something I never requested, and I have no idea how they got my address.

Now if the membership to his organization wasn’t a big enough surprise, the promotional certificates that came along with it were even better.

I’m proud to announce to the world that I am now an 8th Dan Hanshi according to the World Ju-Jitsu Aiki-Bujutsu Federation.

Furthermore, I have attained the level of Grandmaster 8th Dan Hanshi according to the Yawara Ryu Aiki-Ju-Jitsu Renmei, and I now have a lifetime membership with the group.

If these “awards” weren’t enough accolades, I’m also an Honorary Grandmaster 8th Dan Hanshi in the European Assocation of Daito Ryu Aiki Bujutsu.

Now what does all of this mean? Like I said, I have no idea who Mr. Boedeker is or what these organizations are all about. Then again Mr. Boedeker didn’t ask me for a dime. I’m assuming my life membership is free and all these things were gifts for all my hard work and effort through the years. But this is hard work and effort Mr. Boedeker would have absolutely no clue about since he is no more familiar with my history than I am of his.

Is it a scam, or is Mr. Boedeker just trying to organize a “fraternal” group of like-minded people? I don’t know and I suspect I will never know. I further suspect it’s most likely a combination of things.

I truly believe many martial art organizations started off with genuinely good intent, but unfortunately lost their directions along the way.

Certainly, if it weren’t for the promotional certificates I would tend to give Mr. Boedeker’s group more validation. However, promoting people one has never met, never trained with, or never seen in action is really a big warning sign to me. A BIG BIG WARNING!

All kidding aside, and without wanting to insult Mr. Boedeker, my point with all of this is that it is possible to become a life member in an organization without requesting it. It is possible to be promoted by people one has never met. And that’s were the danger lies.

If this group has a posted membership on the Internet, and my name is on it, people will judge me by the company I keep. However, in this case, as in others I’ve already listed on my web page, I have never met these people, never trained with them, never taught for them, and in all but two cases never requested a membership with them.

This of course leads back to the original disclaimer I posted regarding my affiliation with various groups.

Mr. Boedeker might be a great practitioner of the martial arts. His group may be legit. We might even be on the same page when it comes to our views on the martial arts. The truth is that I don’t know; and until I do know for certain, how could I ever blindly endorse him or his group? Yet, I am now officially a member of this group.

Until I meet the man, train with him, teach for him, and see for myself what he has to offer and what I think of him as a person I will continue to state:

  1. I don’t involve myself with any of his group’s politics.
  2. I don’t support or justify their positions.
  3. I make no claims as to his abilities, or the instructors related to the groups he represents.
  4. I make no claim that his group is any more valid, upstanding, or ethical than any other group.

The same goes for any other group that I am now or have ever been affiliated with.

So judge me by the company you think I keep. Or, if you really think you’re the better person, take the time to get to really know me before you mock me to the world.

And before you wise guys make the obvious point of why I don’t write back and decline all of this, who says I haven’t? More importantly why should I feel the need to do so? I know what these promotions are worth. So do my students.

[Editors note: For the lineage groupies: It appears that this “Aiki-ju-jitsu” and “Daito Ryu” certification traces lineage from Mr. Boedeker through Cliff Witcher and Martin J. Rogers of “Zen Ha Daito Ryu” (a.k.a. “Zen Kenpo Ryu”) and thence to John Williams of “Saigo Ha Daito Ryu.” Saigo Ha Daito Ryu does not descend from Takeda Sokaku but traces its lineage back to an older generation of the Takeda clan.]

A Review of the 2006 San Francisco/Sacramento Rick Clark Seminar

On Oct. 20, 2006 Rick Clark arrived in San Francisco. Since was arriving early Friday afternoon he had agreed to do a private class for my students at my school.

The class started with a lecture where Prof. Clark discussed the pros and cons of using vital point striking in an actual life and death altercation. He discussed the controversy over whether or not vitals were possible to hit on a moving target. While Prof. Clark readily admits it takes a lot of accuracy to hit vital points on a moving target, his rebuttal is that not every part of attacker’s body is moving during every phase of an attack. For example, when a person is grabbed the attacking arm is static and a fairly easy target for vital point striking. Or, when a person is kicking with one leg, the other leg is static.

He then told us about a new concept he has been using to describe the advantages of utilizing vital points in various techniques. He has started using the term “force multiplier.” Basically, this is a military term that he uses to explain how vital points can enhance other techniques: if an arm lock is effective, applying that arm-lock with the addition of vital points increases the force and lethality of the technique. The way he described things made a lot of sense.

After the lecture, Prof. Clark then showed us various techniques, which utilized vital points to make techniques more effective.

Among the techniques he taught were several variations of thumb locks. Unlike the straightforward method where one grabs his opponent’s thumb and bends it backwards, these thumb locks were done by rotating the wrist is specific directions such that the thumb was in a position where the slightest pressure would cause discomfort/pain.

Now, these thumb locks were nothing new to me, but it’s the first time I actually understood—consciously became aware of—what I’ve been doing all these years. In this case, Prof. Clark made me more conscious of how my techniques work, which in the long run will help me to execute and teach them better.

The most interesting technique of the evening was a counter to the technique called Ni-kyu. Now, in my 30 plus years of doing martial arts I have been taught and/or discovered about 67 different ways to apply/counter ni-kyu. However, this variation was a new one for me, and so easy I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered it long ago.

Not only was this counter to ni-kyu simple, but within moments I came up with three new variations I can apply from it. That brings my total to over 70 ways to apply/counter ni-kyu.

Now before I go on, I should mention that I was very worried about how this weekend would go. Not because I was worried about what Prof. Clark would teach, he always teaches an excellent seminar, but because so few people had pre-registered. I told Spencer several times that I was worried I would lose money on this venture. This fact kept bugging me until Spencer said I wasn’t doing this seminar for others, I was just bringing Prof. Clark here because I wanted to learn form him.

You know that is so true. I firmly believe that if one can walk away from a seminar with one or two new techniques, concepts, or theories, then one’s time and money was well spent.

So, worry as I might about breaking even financially, I clearly got my money’s worth on day one.

Saturday October 21, 2006 – San Francisco

(Photos of S.F. Seminar courtesy of "Many V")

Approximately 15 people showed up for Saturday’s class. The group was small, but this worked out well since it allowed for a lot of individual instruction and time for specific questions to be addressed.

One of the things I like, and really respect, about Prof. Clark is his openness to answering questions. He shares information clearly, openly, and often with a sense of humor that tends to keep things very relaxed.

Prof. Clark is also open to discussing new ideas and discovering what other people have to offer on the topics brought up during the seminar. In other words, if someone can answer a question better than he can, he has no problem letting him or her take the floor. This “lack of ego” is refreshing in the martial arts, and once again I proved my belief that one can learn from just about anyone no matter what their skill level may be. I mean isn’t there a saying…’Out of the mouth of babes come the darndest things?”

Saturday’s seminar started basically the same as the private class Prof. Clark had done for my students. After that basic introduction came the techniques and the daylong application of painful locks and pressure points.

The techniques we worked on ranged from the various thumbs locks we had worked on the previous night to vital point location and activation. We also practiced various defensive vital point striking techniques that can be used to set up and enhance the joint locks already done in most martial art systems.

Saturday was a day full of pain, laughter, hard work, and some very interesting techniques and concepts. There was a lot of material to think over and work on for some time to come.

Sunday October 22, 2006 – Sacramento

About 12 people showed for the Sacramento seminar. Like Saturday this small group led to a lot of one on one instruction, as well as addressing questions brought up during various techniques.

While Prof. Clark covered the same basic information he covered on Saturday, we ended up doing a lot more variations. This made the class very interesting for those of us now on our third day of training and let the other people in attendance see just how vast and varied these techniques can be.

Even my wife, Shirly, joined in. She took a lot of pleasure trying the techniques out on me. A warning to all you martial artists out there: beware of training with your wife/girlfriend, especially if she doesn’t normally practice martial arts. Like the saying goes, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” My poor wrist will never be the same.

Of course, my wife’s participation just shows that Prof. Clark has something to offer anyone no matter what his or her experience level happens to be.

It’s been four days since Prof. Clark left, and my body is just returning to normal. The bruises are almost gone—or at least they are now a lesser shade of pale green.

The consensus among my students and other attendees who offered feedback was that Prof. Clark’s seminar was very valuable. It helped them understand what vital point striking was all about, and how to apply it in their respective martial arts.

As for me, I learned, relearned, and came away with new ideas and concepts to explore. More importantly, I had the chance to spend a lot of time with Prof. Clark and really get to know him. We share a lot of things in common, especially our views regarding martial arts training, and seeking out new information that will make us better practitioners.

I’m planning on bring Prof. Clark out again in June or July of 2006, and I hope at that time to learn a lot more. I’m also hopeful that many of those who attended this past weekend will tell their friends about their experience and that we have a lot more people come and train with us.

Samurai Wiki

The folks who run the Samurai Archives history site are in the process of developing a wiki on all things Samurai, from clan histories to film synopses.

The number of articles so far is pretty limited, but they are working hard and it looks like they are doing things the right way. They seem to have an honest spirit of inquiry and cooperation and are building an original and well researched body of knowledge. This is a worthwhile project, and it would be worthwhile for anybody who has something to add to contribute.

In general, I’ve found Samurai Archives and their related forums to be an excellent resource with far less ego and argument than most of the martial-arts focused forums I follow.

I think it is a notable that the martial arts community has a poor relationship with wikis. The relevant articles on Wikipedia are prone to errors and pointless edit wars. Independent wikis have failed to take-off much, although there is a Sword Arts Wiki and the Martial Talk Encyclopedia, neither of which are very interesting so far. I think that part of the problem is that those who are truly knowledgeable are not interested in writing/marinating information for “outsiders,” leaving fanboys and zealous acolytes to write what is out there (see this thread). The other problem is that martial artists are notoriously bad at working together. Of course, who am I to complain when I am writing for my own site rather than contributing?