Misogi – A Hallmark of Aikido

Shinto Purification Rite

The New Year is upon us and like many people I am preparing to welcome in 2015! For me that means doing some general housekeeping both at home, work and within myself. Cleaning up or purifying (misogi) is a tradition to begin a new year. For me it’s right up there with celebrating midnight on the 31st by sharing a toast and kiss with my wife.

In many corners of the world, these next few weeks are a time of much preparation. In Japan nearly the entire nation works with their families, schools, place of business and dojo to clean these places where people gather. By doing so they are able to welcome the New Year with purified surroundings and spirit.

Misogi or cleansing/purification is a central element of Aikido. O’Sensei was a devote follower of the Shinto religion and a very spiritual person.   It is little wonder that his spiritual practices were incorporated in exercises and techniques. To O’Sensei Aikido was a spiritual experience. The spiritual aspects of our art have been de-emphasized in today’s Aikido practice. This maybe in part due to political correctness or that it appears O’Sensei did not focus as much attention in passing on his thoughts to his later students as he had in earlier periods. Leaving his students to self discover the spiritual aspects and meanings. This resulted in many Sensei not including much, if any, of the spiritual teachings in their dojo’s curriculum. Whatever the reasons, a student would be remiss in not recognizing the importance of the purification practices. 

Shinto - Aikido Purification

Misogi Ceremony

New Year’s day (or very near to it) many Aikidoka and others will gather in Misogi ceremonies. They gather near streams, lakes, waterfalls and other water features all to symbolize the cleansing of their body, mind and spirit.

Many aikido practitioners may not realize that some the  “warm-up” exercises we perform each day prior to training are “purification” movements passed down to us from O’Sensei. Added by chants, mundras, sounds and physical vibrations these exercises are ways to purify.  Here 2 examples of exercises that have their roots in the Founder’s Shinto practices.

Furitama: “soul shaking or vibration of the spirit”


Formula Portrait O’Sensei

This exercise was originally intended to gather the spirits (Kami) of the divine into one’s center, calming the spirit and vibrating soul. It’s an effective way to gather your thoughts, center your mind and focus your intention.

The exercise is performed with feet shoulder width apart, hands right over left with a slight space between the hands so that they aren’t grapping one another. Just gently one over the other.   The hands are placed in front of one’s abdomen and shaken vigorously up and down creating a vibration felt throughout the body. You in hale air by concentrating on filling one’s body fully to the top your head, which causes a slight natural rise up. Exhale concentrating on releasing all the air out through the pathway of your feet into the earth, all the while continuing to shake the hands. The exercise is finished in silent and quiet physical – meditative state.

A similar form of “vibrating spirit” is performed with feet shoulder width apart, arms and hands directly overhead with fingers extended while vigorously shaking the hands. Then throwing the hands directly down towards the ground. This exercise is often referred to as “shaking off the dust on the joints and shaking the impurities from the body… a form of misogi to prepare for aikido practice.



Torifune/Kogi-fune: “boat or bird rowing”

tori-gune "bird rowing"

O’Sensei tori-fune

The arms and body movement is performed much like one would if manning the oars of a rowboat. This exercise is based on the important ancient Shinto text “Kami no Michi.” Originally the exercise was performed in a very linear fashion, with clenched fists and thumbs inside. Old film footage shows O’Sensei show him using this traditional punching fist style with thumbs outside and linear; as well as, in rowing swing movement.

Today, most Aikidoka, perform this exercise with open hands, fingers pointing down, wrists thrusting forward/out and drawing back to the hips. Adding a vocalization to this movement results in a “vibrating spirit.”

Perform this exercise is by first placing the left foot forward. While thrusting the hands forward you vocalize the sound “EH.” When drawing the hands back you vocalize “HO.” The forward/backward or push/pull movement is rhythm counted out, then the right foot is put forward. This time as you thrust forward you vocalize “EE” and “SA” as you pull backwards. Finally a 3rd set is done with the left foot forward. This last set you vocalize “EH” both going forward and back.

Of course, different teachers use variations on these exercises. There are also numerous other misogi intended exercise and techniques such as the Ibuki Kokyu (deep breathing) as just one example.   I hope this information is helpful in your growing understanding of our marital art.



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