Why Shizentai?

© 2010 by Linda Yiannakis

We are taught in judo that shizentai (natural posture) is our basic stance, but not much emphasis is placed on this outside of its use as a physical posture. Yet the choice of shizentai as a central element in judo goes beyond the physical characteristics of how to stand and move correctly.

Shizentai is given as one of the first lessons in Nage no Kata. After bowing to joseki and to each other, the participants step out into shizentai. As my sensei used to remind us, "This is the fighting stance of judo." This is the one from which we move, generate power, create momentum and execute techniques. Tai sabaki, throws, locks, strikes and kicks are generally done from shizentai. Shizentai allows us to achieve centered action in technique execution without switching to a special stance. Although we adopt other stances when needed, shizentai is our central posture.

Koizumi states that:

"The natural fundamental posture, so called, is the basic bodily attitude in Judo training …The lines of the posture thus formed express calm dignity, balanced stability, passivity, unconcerned ease, peace and tranquility, known in philosophical terms as "action in inaction", full of potentialities. This posture enables a quick change of position and stance to be effected in case of need, and the utmost freedom to be maintained. … To cultivate the natural fundamental posture is the main object of basic training in Judo, for the sake of the attributed virtues above." (Koizumi, 1960: 176)

Beyond its purely physical characteristics, shizentai may be seen as a reflection of concepts related to the Dai Shizen, or Great Nature. The Dai Shizen refers to the natural world around us with all of its rhythms, processes, connections and interrelated forces, both seen and unseen. We are part of the Dai Shizen. We as people are not just dropped into it to rule, regulate or destroy as we please. There is a place that is natural and right where we fit in as part of the larger mosaic.

Koizumi refers to judo’s role in providing awareness of this larger concept.

"As we advance in the study of Judo, we realize that as the opponent is a necessary partner in that advance, so are all other fellow men for human progress, and that human life is founded on a common basis… we realize that the essence of the art is to harmonize our movements with the rhythm of the "stream." … The mind and body are inseparable components, one living being, and in effect they are co-existent and inter-influential. Training one is, therefore, training the other." (Koizumi, 1960: 175)

Kano’s choice of shizentai no ri as central to judo signals that judo is more than a collection of physical techniques. Judo is an art that is literally a road - a do or michi - that takes us somewhere. We have within us the understanding of a right and natural way to live so as to be in accord or in harmony with the rest of the world around us. Our aim is to learn to free ourselves of the conflicts and distractions which cause us to lose touch with this natural sense which is within us. Kano’s ultimate ideal of judo, Jiko no kansei ("perfect yourself") is a vision of harmony with the greater tapestry of life, achieved through overcoming the acquired impediments and obstacles that divide us from our true natures, and through understanding of our connection to others.

Tomiki, a life-long judoka who studied with Kano as well as with Ueshiba in aikido, wrote:

"What are the distinctive features of Japanese Budo? They are surely
matters of spirit and philosophy. It has come to be said quite often that if
we diligently develop our waza, our minds and spirits (kokoro) will be
improved. Since ancient times, this budo shugyo, or martial arts training

and apprenticeship, has proceeded from "techniques" (waza) to the "Way"
(michi)…It has been handed down to this generation that the secret principle
of martial arts techniques in kenjutsu (cf, The Book of the Five Rings) or
in jujutsu (cf, The Heavenly Scroll of Kito Ryu Jujutsu) is to study
thoroughly the principles of the arts so that we will ultimately arrive at
"no posture" (mugamae) -- that is, we will develop true natural posture
(shizen hontai). In the same way that thoroughly mastering the principles of
the arts leads the body to mugamae, such mastery leads the soul to mushin,
which is often termed "no heart," or "the quietude of spirit". Although
there are various terms for mushin, such as the unmoving heart, the
non-living heart, the soft and pliable heart, and the every-day heart, they
all mean exactly the same thing. And arriving at this state of mushin is
congruent with the goals of the religious and moral systems that have
existed in all eras and in all places." (Tomiki, K.: 1975)

Judo is an art of integrated principles that weaves together physical, moral and philosophical concepts in its purpose and method. The establishment of shizentai as the central stance is one reflection of the role of judo in helping us to find our place in the Dai Shizen and work toward the ideal expressed in "Jiko no kansei."


Koizumi, G. (1960). My Study of Judo. Cornerstone Library: New York

Tomiki, K. (1975; 1986 translation by Dziubla, R. and Shishida, F.). On Jujutsu and its Modernization. Retrieved from the Tomiki Aikido of the Americas website at