Kaiten-nage : On Learning How to Open and Transform the Self

Kai and Ten : Literally, mean “ round, revolve, a counter for occurrences, reform, renew, examine, change, modify, open, unfold , unseal” . Ten also means the heavens.

In Aikido, kaitenage is commonly known as the rotary arm throw. It is one of the many techniques we take as uke as soon as we learn how to do the forward / front roll. As with most Aikido techniques, it is characterized by flowing circular movements. But significantly, in kaitenage, its circular movements do not happen on just one or two planes, they all happen on different planes. Picture for a moment, the simple drawing of the atom in our elementary school books. It has a center and several orbits around it, all in motion. The orbits are not confined to just one plane, but has many planes. Like this:


This is how I picture kaitenage in my mind, an atom with multiplanar fields always in motion. When looking at the technique being done, I look for these circles within the pair who are engaged in kaitenage. And I also become aware of their center from where all the balance and action is coming from.

Kaitenage is the technique that signifies transformation.

We deal with an attack by opening the door for it to fall through, and then we guide our partner towards a desired outcome. In kaitenage, we do not deny that there is a problem, because it is there coming at us. But, by changing the context in which we deal with the problem, we can transform the experience and affect the outcome.

Distance (Ma-ai) is important in kaitenage, so that we are effectively redirecting our partner’s attack and effectively setting them up for the throw. In dealing with a problem, how effective would you be if you were in the middle of it, in the thick of the battle? Aways from it, to think more clearly? Where would you situate yourself be able to effect the most change? Posture and position in relation to distance play a crucial part in being effective with making kaitenage work for you.

Timing is just as important. When do we engage our partner? What is the most advantageous time for us to step out the line of attack? When is a good time to bring him into our space of control? When is the best time to shift directions while in motion?

Most important of all is the follow through. All the while we are moving with our partners, we must also maintain constant control and consistently keeping them off balance. And after the throw? We forget that we still have to follow through. Just because the problem seems like it has gone away does not mean it will be gone forever. Taking steps to ensure that we have a working plan for the eventuality of that problem coming back or preventing its recurrence is just as important as working constructively with it in the first place.

You can look up many kaitenage clips on the internet but it would be helpful if you can find a partner and teacher to practice it with you. It all seems too complicated and very technical, that if you think about it, you will not really get it.

With kaitenage, the getting of its significance and importance is in the doing.

But the beauty of kaitenage is in the meaning I see in its form. The beauty of kaitenage lies in the spontaniety that springs to life while the participants are in motion. From the cutting to the throwing, the technique flies like a blur, taking advantage of both the momentum and the direction most easy to follow.

To open and to transform. Just like the technique, it is a smooth progression, and we never really realize we have morphed into another version of ourselves, until we have stopped to take a look back. And transformation doesn’t happen only in one area, it affects other areas too.

When we decide to be kinder, attitude changes, as well as manners and habits. Just like kaitenage, transformation is multiplanar.  In retrospect, we never really miss our old selves, do we, if we have changed for the better?

To open and transform, the self, the other, society, the world? Everyday, day in, day out, we are given opportunities to change, to renew, to make a turn-around, by choice, for the better. Kaitenage is the turning of the heavens so that we can transform ourselves.

(Please also see: “Iriminage: Having the Heart to Enter“)


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