The martial concept of ‘Atemi’ was developed in Asia thousands of years ago somwhat ironically aiming strikes at many of the points also used for healing in acupuncture and acupressure. The principles of Atemi eventually began to be assimilated into Japanese martial arts (Samurai especially began integrating atemi into their unarmed combat techniques).
In Aikido, the atemi is most commonly used in the following ways:
• To stop or re-direct your partner’s intention, attention, ki or movement.
• To ” fill the gaps” or potential weaknesses during the application of technique.
• As a destructive force, if one is left with no ethical alternative.
To “take the mind”
An attack will be produced by an aggressive intention. One of the key roles of Atemi within aikido is to diffuse the attacker’s intention, either by an applied counter strike or by simply leaving a disruptive force (fist/hand/tegatana/knee/foot etc) directly in the path of where a (vulnerable) part of your opponent will be, once they have committed to their attack.
For example, if your partner strikes with a straight punch to the face (Jodan tsuki), by moving off the line of attack Atemi can applied either as a strike, or can be positioned in such a way that your opponent’s impetus lead him to”walk into” your Atemi. In either instance, Atemi will serve both to disrupt the attacker’s output of ki, and should make the physical aspect of the attack falter, even stop, allowing technique to be applied in a much more controlled manner (and therefore with more ethical choice) than if attempted against a “full speed” attack.
To “fill the gaps”
The other aspect of Atemi often neglected appears “within” technique. In an ideal situation, under perfect conditions, technique can be applied without Atemi, but in the real world this is unlikely, so Atemi is made to both “protect” the nage whilst carrying out technique and to further breakdown the attacker’s resistance.
For example, when applying a technique like Gyakyu-hamni Kaiten-nage (a spiral throw which requires nage to Atemi enter under the attacker’s arm), without correctly placed Atemi nage is left vulnerable to counter strikes; in this way we can see that the atemi is actually an integral part of the technique, not an afterthought.
Some styles of Aikido do not practise using Atemi, other styles use them comprehensively: whatever your practice protocol requires it is essential to always remember where the Atemi would occur within each technique you study, as in a out-of-the-dojo encounter you may well need it.
The “last resort”
This brings us to the final aspect of Atemi – If all else fails, and it is appropriate in the situation, Atemi can be used as a destructive, even fatal strike. Advanced martial artists will be aware of the many nerve points and areas of vulnerability which when struck with accurate Atemi can cause severe injury, even death (there are martial arts specifically concerned with Atemi to these “vital points”) .
From an Aikido standpoint (as an art based upon the premise of unification and love) this is a last resort, but when in a life-threatening situation, common sense dictates ones uses whatever one has available.