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Suki, 隙: part 1 exploiting openings in others

November 10, 2010

This is a short series about openings/opportunities in aikido and other martial arts.
Part 1: introduction, openings in others
Part 2: openings in ourselves, letting go (not published yet)
Part 3: off the mat, vulnerability and compassion

Ability is nothing without opportunity – Napolean Bonaparte

Types of opening
Openings, sometimes called suki1 , 隙, in aikido come in three types:

  1. Timing/movement; dosa-no-suki / 動作の隙2 : If we are fast enough we may take the decisive action while uke transitions or pauses.
  2. Posture/Structure; kamae-no-suki / 構えの隙2 : If our partner’s structure is unsound or gaurd is open they will be open.
  3. Spirit; Kokoro-no-suki / 心の隙2 : If our partner “hedges their bets” and does not enter wholly into each action they will be open in their moment of indecision.

All three parts may be ok on individual inspection but your partner will still be open if they don’t coordinate the three properly (see Ki-ken-tai-ichi 3)

Sources of openings
These openings can come from 3 different sources: 4

  1. The unprompted actions/condition of our opponent, e.g. incorrect gaurd position: exploited with direct attack.
  2. Caused directly by us, e.g. beat attack: the first part of our action is to make an opening for our direct attack.
  3. Indirectly caused by us (see part 2 for more detail), e.g. 2nd intention attack: our initial attack fails but induces our opponent to attack, we exploit the opening in his attack with a counter technique like a parry-reposte.

By symmetry all these openings can also be found in ourselves. A way to learn to see openings in others is to have a partner exploit them in us. We won’t look at this symmetry any deeper here, but it should be kept in mind.
Once an opening has been observed an appropriate action must be taken before it is gone. Our training is the investment we make so that when openings present themselves we can observe, orient, decide and act in the most efficient manner (See Boyd5). One thing that can get in the way of this process is our own fear. We’ll deal with this more in part 2, but it’s summed up in “irimi.”

Failed technique and lack of openings
The ‘mountain-sea’ spirit means that it is bad to repeat the same thing several times when fighting the enemy. There may be no help but to do something twice, but do not try it a third time. If you once make an attack and fail, there is little chance of success if you use the same approach again. – the book of 5 rings, Musashi 6

The less open your partner is to one technique the more vulnerable they’ll be to another. For example, if uke is directly resisting a rearward throw they are creating an opening for a forward throw (sokumen irimi nage to omote kaiten nage; ko-uchi garrai to seoi-nage; etc), thus our actions should be tailored to our partner. There is also a time for determination but when this becomes stubbornness we become vulnerable ourselves.
In training you may wish to investigate one particular technique and how to make it effective even against an unwilling uke. This could be seen as improving a technique so it can exploit smaller openings.

Ignoring openings
Letting openings go unexploited can have consequences. One may be the training experience you are denying yourself and your partner. Outside of training we are even less often allowed a second chance at an opportunity.
Sometimes you’ll see more than one opening. When the decision appears arbitrary choose one resolutely.


  1. “kanji for, and meaning of, suki” a discussion on aikiweb
  2. a term more widely used in kendo, these openings are discussed in answer 11 to a kendo exam that can be found on the ucl kendo clubs site:
  3. Mind body and sword as one, a widely used concept, which I’ve previously blogged about: link to ki-ken-tai-ichi-blog
  4. I’m sure I’ve stolen this from an article on kazushi but can’t remember the source.
  5. John Boyd’s work on Command and Control, the OODA loop, was origionaly formed to describe US air superiority in Korea, it has since been applied to many other areas of adversarial activity: link wikipedia page
  6. The Book of 5 Rings – Miyamoto Musashi: Book of the 5 Rings on Amazon


From → martial

  1. Great blog! Just one thing with regards to the “ignoring openings” – when there is a big difference in level (beginner with experienced person, 1st dan with 6th dan) there are always openings; it is not always helpful to take advantage of them. In this case I think that noting the openings to yourself and making sure that your own technique does not contain them is extremely helpful.

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  1. suki, 隙 : part 2 « mostly martial
  2. Suki, 隙: part 3 « mostly martial

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