Tai-sabaki – Shintai – Shizentai
All the practitioners of the Tomiki method, whether it is Aikido or Judo, are familiar with this model of footwork. This is one of the many overlapping components between Aikido and Judo. It is used in numerous books written by Kenji Tomiki. In “Judo et Aïkido”, an abbreviated English version of his Japanese books, the same concept is used to explain the footwork exercises.
Unfortunately, we cannot find indications how to use footwork in a proper way. We have the pattern, we know “shizentai or natural posture” is necessary during body movements, but most of the practitioners don’t know “how to….”. It is very easy to say “just practise”. The question arises “how to practise?”.
Everybody knows that the answer coming from famous teachers when you ask them for something you don’t understand.
“Case by case”
Such an answer is not solving your problem. In case of footwork, we have to consider the basic types of footwork. Besides the basic types, we also have to think about the relationship between the body weight and gravity. And don’t forget the concept of “MA-AI“. By understanding the different aspects in proper footwork and practised these during solo-training and partner exercises, the finalisation will come forward during randori. As Kenji Tomiki said: colouring the dragon’s eye.
Basic types footwork
These are already discussed in other blog posts.
The moving body and shizentai
Among the fundamental elements of martial arts are, taijū no idō or moving the body weight with footwork and taijū no dendō or the transfer of body weight one of the most important concepts. Hino Sensei (Hino Budo’s method) says: “Strictly speaking, the motion of the body weight is to move by making his body a single block. For example, moving forward, or backward, being a solid block”.
Both skills (taijū no idō and taijū no dendō) are based upon proper footwork. And footwork includes also the use of shizentai or in Hino’s words “one’s body a single block”. Don’t take his words out of the context, because we have to take in account another concept or skill: Jukozo or the flexible body.
I would like to repeat a remark I made in other articles:
The main purpose of ritsuzen or standing meditation is to create a “linked” body-system.
This isn’t about standing still. This is an exercise with a lot of movement controlled by your mind. In essence, there is neither footwork nor arm movement. Nevertheless, it is possible some movements can occur when kyokotsu and koshi are involved.
Standing still or creating “shizentai” is the first step in footwork exercises. Advanced practitioners need just a few seconds to adopt shizentai, beginners need more time and need to practice a lot.
More to learn about ritsuzen and shizentai: A ring of power
Shintai and tai-sabaki
Kazuko Kudo a 9th dan Kodokan Judo made an interesting comment on footwork:
Advance-retreat (shintai) – Under this single heading we include both the advance-retreat (shintai) type of movement and turning movements (tai-sabaki).
To master the advance-retreat style of movement you must first master the following way of walking. Usually humans walk by putting their weight on one foot and advancing the other, then shifting their weight to the advanced foot as soon as it touches the floor and advancing the other foot. If we walk backwards the process is the same, only in the opposite direction. Forwards or backwards, this walking method always leaves your weight on one foot for an interval during which your body itself remains back with that support foot.
In his remark, he is talking about the normal way people are walking. In the next comment he talks about a martial way of walking.
In judo walking methods, on the other hand, we move our legs, hips, and bodies forward or backward all at the same time, you must not put one foot forward and leave your body behind or advance your body and leave one foot behind.
How to master this walking method? The first thing to remember is to maintain the natural body position. In judo we walk in the natural position, or to put it slightly differently we walk with our hips. As you walk do not let your feet move too far apart or too close together, do not let your body—head, shoulders, hips—rise and fall, and walk in a sliding smooth fashion across the floor.
Further, he advised to study the skill of “tsugi ashi”. He called this “following feet”. Tomiki’s Unsoku-who is using exactly the same method as Kazuko Kudo explained.
About Tai-sabaki, there is also an interesting comment
Movement control (tai-sabaki)
The Japanese words tai-sabaki are capable of two interpretations. In the wider sense they simply mean all natural body movements including the tsugi-ashi advance-retreat motions we have just been explaining. In the narrower sense they indicate the ways we manipulate and control our body’s motions.
He explained several items included in tai-sabaki:
- Carriage of the head
- Use of the eyes
- Breath control
- Use of the torso
- Hand movements
- Foot movements
These items are also explained by Senta Yamada in his book about aikido: The principles and Practice of Aikido. Some of Kudo’s comments, you also find in Tomiki’s Judo and Aikido.
A contemporary of Sentia Yamada was Tadashi Abe, a student of Morihei Ueshiba. In his books about aikido, he described the art of tai-sabaki as a three-fold action.
- Koshi sabaki
- Ashi sabaki
- Te sabaki
Tadashi Abe studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and is also considered as one of the aikido pioneers in Europe.
Tai-sabaki – Movement Control
The word tai-sabaki is commonly used in Tomiki’s Aikido to describe the ability to avoid an attack. Of course, avoiding can be considered as a part of tai-sabaki. However, tai-sabaki has more to offer the practitioner.
In the words of Kazuko Kudo, Movement Control is the mantra to fully understand Tai-sabaki. Kenji Tomiki explained in fact the idea of Tai-sabaki when he talked about Tsukuri. This concept was developed by Jigoro Kanon the founder of Kodokan Judo. But again we must admit, most of the explanations are just words, so called buzzwords.
When we practise our exercises, one of the goals has to be the control of our movements. When practising with a partner, controlling the movements of the opponent becomes the goal. The attack is just the result of his movement.
Tsukuri or preparation
From “Judo and Aikido” by Kenji Tomiki:
Bringing your opponent’s posture and position into such a relation to yours as to make it easier for you to throw him is called tsukuri (preparatory action). Breaking your opponent’s posture and making it unstable is aite o tsukuru (to prepare the opponent) and assuming at that moment a position and posture convenient for using a technique according to the change in your opponent’s is jibun o tsukuru (to prepare yourself). Thus you must use the most adequate technique after making a thorough tsukuri.
Jibun o tsukuru
It is paradoxical to emphasize ukemi as a form of jibun o tsukuru, but by mental and physical understanding, the concept of “jukozo” or “flexible body” becomes more understandable.
It is a common fact, when a beginner comes into the dojo, he or she likes to know how to throw the opponent. The newbie is in most cases not interested in the fact, you can only throw someone if you can control yourself.
In the older days, ukemi training was one of the foremost methods for beginners to learn to do breakfalls and build up stamina. This was the explanation given to the beginner. It took several months to become more or less skilful in the art of falling. Ukemi or protecting the body is a very physically demanding exercise. When practised correctly and with full commitment, ukemi training becomes a cardio training with a lot of peak moments. Also the body becomes used for different kinds of impact when it hits the floor. The body creates a skill to avoid hard impact by using jukozo to distribute the impact to a bigger surface or into a larger body movement. A big rolling ukemi is such an example.
Aite o tsukuru
Preparing of the opponent consists in destroying the opponent’s balance before performing a technique and putting him in a posture where it will be easy to apply it. (Kenji Tomiki).
Without proper jibun o tsukuru, aite o tsukuru wil be very difficult and every attempt to throw the opponent will fail in most cases. Of course you can succeed by using extreme physical strength, but we are looking for a method useful for the lesser muscular practitioner.
Tai-sabaki becomes one of the pillars of aite o tsukuru together with the many exercises found in “sotai dosa“. The 7 balance disturbing exercises (shichi-hon-no-kuzushi) are another example of sotai dosa in the Tomiki Aikido training program.