Randori (a.k.a. freestyle) is a practice in aikido where you train to manage multiple opponents, each with different attacks, at the same time. The word literally means “grasping chaos.” Below is a list that offers 6 principles for proper randori practice, and aikido in general. It’s important to note: These principles complement and build progressively on one another.

  1. Relax and breathe
  2. Stay centered and balanced
  3. Maintain equanimity and courtesy
  4. Focus and release
  5. Roll with the punches
  6. Care for yourself and others

1.     Relax and Breathe

In aikido, by relaxed we don’t mean go limp. We’re talking about not being tense. Think “supple.” In an ideal randori practice, you still have energy and mobility, but your mind is calm and your body is not seized up with tension. Also, by practicing deep breathing, you can preserve your physical vitality and endurance as well as your mental stability.

2.     Stay Centered and Balanced

A founding principle in aikido is using an opponent’s own energy to diffuse their attack. To do this in randori, you must maintain your own center and balance so you can move with your opponents in any direction at any time.

3.     Maintain Equanimity and Courtesy

You hear this all the time in aikido: “The martial way begins and ends with courtesy” and “Do not fight.” But how can you not fight in randori practice? Aikido is a system of self-defense, and even offense, that does not come at the expense of your opponent. It is about conflict resolution. 

4.      Focus and Release

In randori practice you cannot spend time “finishing off” a single opponent because the next one will be on you. It’s all about timing and effort. As things become fast and furious, you must 1) focus on one opponent; 2) limit the time you spend on them; and 3) learn to deal with them effectively, not endlessly. Recognize that you may only be able to push them off momentarily, just keep moving and keep them moving.

5.     Roll with the Punches

In randori practice, you can’t worry about taking a few hits or not successfully stopping your opponent. You can’t dwell on the hit or failure; other opponents are already coming for you. Let the experience train you, not defeat you, and then move on to the next.

6. Care for Yourself and Others

In randori practice caring for yourself and others means knowing and respecting your limits and the limits of your training partners who are acting as your “opponents.” You may want to go hard and fast, but you never know how long it will take to resolve a conflict or settle an issue. By managing and measuring your responses appropriately, everyone can train another day.