what is shakko ho?

This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog

Reader “Belt_up” asks in a comment what shakko ho is. I was going to post a hyperlink for him to follow, but when I Googled “Yoshinkan shakko ho,” I discovered there is almost no reference to this practice on the Internet. Neither can I find photos or video to explain.

So you know I’m not making something up, you can see “shakko ho” listed in the syllabus of this Yoshinkan dojo under the kihon.

what shakko ho is

Shakko ho is practice moving in a standing position in Yoshinkan aikido. (Shakko ho is opposed to shikko ho, which is moving in a seated position. Now, I know there are other styles of aikido doing shikko.) I am informed by a reliable source that the literal translation of shakko ho is “diagonal-go-method”. However, when I look in the Jim Breen dictionary, I don’t see anything like that. If the search results in Jim Breen have anything to do with the aikido technique, it means something more like “distance-skill-method”.

Shakko ho is performed by starting in the Yoshinkan kamae stance and stepping forward with the front foot. As the foot goes forward, the hips make an S shape. The movement ends with the back leg straight and the front leg bent, and with the hips low to the ground and facing slightly off the center line. Then, without raising the hips, step forward with the back leg, hips make an S shape, and hips end facing slightly off center toward the opposite side.

You can walk like this across the floor, and we do. The S shape of the hips is the main thing, but other points to keep in mind are maintaining a straight and strong back leg and adequately bent front leg. When the movement finishes, the hips should be straight, not bladed. That is, they should be facing toward a line that goes perpendicular to the direction the body is facing. That body direction is slightly off the center of the line the body is moving along as you walk forward.

similarities and differences with shotokan’s zenkutsu dachi

If by any chance you have done shotokan karate, you may have done a similar walking exercise in that martial art. In my old shotokan dojo, which was originally JKA-affiliated, we practiced a walking exercise where we started from zenkutsu dachi (“front stance”) and scissored the thighs together and then thrust the foot forward. It is a similar movement.

If you watch this YouTube video, you can see karate practitioners testing the stability of their stance. They are partner testing to see whether the weight distribution between the feet is adequate and the body balanced. We do similar partner testing in Yoshinkan aikido while standing in various kihon positions, and this weight distribution and balance is practiced in shakko ho.

If you search for “zenkutsu dachi stepping,” you can read and watch more about the karate version of this movement. In aikido, the most obvious difference is that the front foot is pointed out, perpendicular to the back foot, rather than parallel to the back foot as in shotokan karate. The more important difference is the hips, however, which end facing differently in shakko ho than in zenkutsu dachi stepping. Also, in shakko ho, the back and back leg make a straight line, whereas in zenkutsu dachi, the upper body is straight up and down. These differences in foot, hip, and back significantly change how the center of gravity is manipulated.

how shakko ho is used in keiko

Shakko ho is a warm-up exercise in Yoshinkan aikido.

At Mugenjuku dojo, there are usually two ippan classes each night, one right after the other. In effect, it is like one long 4-hour class with a break in the middle. The beginning of the second class is seiza and then ukemi practice, and then technique practice. The beginning of the first class is seiza and then usually taiso (stretching exercises). When taiso is finished, the person leading taiso turns to Payet-sensei and says something in Japanese I haven’t learned yet. Then Payet-sensei says a set phrase in Japanese that I haven’t learned yet–but it includes “shakko ho”–and we all run to the edge of the mat and do several lengths of the dojo, walking in shakko ho.

Shakko ho provides an opportunity to warm up the hips and remind yourself what adequate rotation feels like before technique practice starts.