At this year’s Winter Intensive training seminar in Florida, Saotome Sensei spoke a lot about the meaning of “ikkyo”. Ito illustrate, he shared a story about a time from when he was training with the Founder, O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba:

O-Sensei would frequently say, ‘ikkyo whole life.’ Once, I responded, ‘Sensei – I already know ikkyo!’ O-Sensei responded, “Baka! (fool!) You not understand the deeper meaning of what I say!’

Saotome Sensei said there is both an “omote” and “ura” meaning within O-Sensei’s statement “ikkyo whole life.” The “omote” meaning simply refers to the time it takes to learn the technical performance of the technique, and that can indeed can learned in a short period of time. However, the hidden part of the meaning is much more subtle.  When O-Sensei referred to “ikkyo” he often was actually referring to approaching each opponent and each attack with a fresh mind, and with no expectation from previous training since each situation is unique, each attacker is unique, and each time an attacker strikes, her reactions and responses will probably be unique.  “Ikkyo means ‘first chapter’, like the first chapter of a book.”

Although it might of been hard for many people who were listening during the seminar to catch, Saotome Sensei related the term “ikkajo” (the older name for “ikkyo”) to the Zen “Icho-go Ichi-e” (there is only now, there is only this opportunity).

I followed up with Sensei in his hotel room during lunch, and he further discussed the relationahip “ikkajo” and “Ichi-go.” Always new mind. Never treat your attacker like an old wife for old husband, always treat them with fresh eyes, “Ikkyo” is a state of mind and philosophy that transcends any physical activity.

We further discussed the importance and quality of that state of mind.  Sensei made a triangle of his fingers and said three words (Sensei loves puns and the accidental meaning found across homonyms)… “AtTENTION,” “inTENTION,”, “inTENSITY,” but not “tension.” He said it is a difficult paradox to summon the level of wakefulness and attention necessary to approach each situation with a truly alert and martial mindset but without tightening the body. He emphasized that when he says “ikkyo your whole life,” he means not just always having that mindset every time one is attacked, but trying to cultivate that state of mind throughout one’s entire life, every day, all day!

We joked that some people practice forceful, stiff, and muscular ikkyo technique their whole lives too.  Sensei laughed, “yes, that is also another meaning; some people stubborn, tense mind whole life!”


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This article has been translated into Turkish by Oğuzhan Yılmaz at

Photo by Carrie Matteoli. “Ichi-go Ichi-e” calligraphy by Kisagari Chiyo.

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