Tsugi Ashi

Basic foot movements are a part of basic displacements. We distinguish displacement with and without foot movement. Tsugi ashi is a basic skill and is used in many martial arts in different formats. Mostly it is performed on a flat floor, for example in a dojo with a wooden floor or covered with tatami.

There are different types of tsugi ashi displacement. The most basic one is moving the front foot forward followed by a sliding back foot. When moving backward, the back foot starts first followed by the front foot.
Moving into other directions follows the same method. The foot closest to the target starts first, followed by the other foot.
In any case, the leg (foot, knee and groin) which is moving first must be flexible and no-weight bearing anymore. Gravity induces the displacement. In the article – Meditative Movements – this movement process is discussed.

We distinguish 2 tsugi ashi methods:

  • Small step tsugi ashi – short distance for explosive power
  • Long step tsugi ashi – big distance for long power

The small step tsugi ashi, the front foot heel is lifted and does not bearing any weight, the weight is about 30% on the ball, 70 % is on the back foot (in the middle of the foot). Using small step tsugi ashi is mainly for delivering power.

The long step tsugi ashi is a rolling foot action to cover a relative long distance.

3 kinds of distance 
Chika-Ma= small step tsugi ashi
Uchi-Ma=long step tsugi ashi - musoko-ho
To-Ma=ayumi ashi or longstep tsugi ashi

Making a choice will depend on the action you are performing.
It is of course always an action of the unconscious mind and not a conscious decission. A conscious mind action is always too late when you like to outwit an opponent.

Small step tsugi ashi

A small step tsugi ashi is a displacement to adjust the distance for an explosive movement. To create “hakkei”, distance need sometimes adjusmentn, but not always.
This kind of “hakkei” or “explosive movement” can be used to create balace disturbance (kuzushi) followed by a long step tsugi ashi and/or an ayumi ashi (stepping action).

The action of the front foot has to create an opposing isometric force when the back foot is coming closer to the front foot.

Long step tsugi ashi

Long step tsugi ashi use the rolling foot skill. Mostly this skill is used after an action of “hakkei” or explosive power and continuing with a throw of controlling technique.
Rolling foot is using gravity as a source of power.

Shock absorbers and brakes

On many vehicules we have shock absorbers and brakes.
Take for example a bicycle.

The shock absorbers damp out the motions of a vehicle up and down on its springs.
A bicycle brake reduces the speed of a bicycle or prevents it from moving.

Our body has also some mechanism to absorb and to stop or slow down body movements. It also has a mechanism to prevent (unnecessary) movements.

Shock absorber & brakes forward movement

The back leg functions as an absorber of energy and can rebound to the target.
The front leg functions as a brake to stop a forward movement, for example during a small forward step tsugi ashi. The braking system of the front leg can rebound the energy to the target.
Both stored energy can only rebound if the body is available for energy transport. Any contraction will stop the transport.
The weight on the front foot is on the ball with a slight lifting of the heel, just to put a paper under the heel.
The weight on the rear foot is more closer to the heel, but not on the heel.
The key to this kind of power manipulation is posture training. Solo or partner training.
Unsoku and tandoku undo (tegatana dosa) are good examples for this kind of solo-training
Tegatana-awase and shotei awase are examples for partner training.

Don’t step back – a dilemma

Do you know that stepping straight back is the worst option one can have? If you do not believe this, imagine when you need to dodge a car. What would you do? Would you step back in line with the car’s direction of movement? I am sure you would not. You will want to move out-of-the-way or you will be run over. Well this concept applies in randori geiko where your opponent is charging at you. Now you can see that it is not such a good idea to step straight back and receive all the energy and power from the attacker. We must learn better options including how to step back in angles, to side step and even to step forward.

But very strange, unsoku ho starts with stepping forward and 2 steps back. While in koryu no kata, stepping back with multiple steps is absent. It seems there is a difference between old style and so-called modern style. Lets take for example 7-hon no kuzushi found in koryu no kata dai yon.

7-hon no kuzushi jodan kuzushi. In the old style the rotational style is promoted.

old style jodan kuzushi

Shodokan or new style is following an almost straight line back.

Shodokan style jodan kuzushi

From a pedagogical side of view, promoting stepping back with multiple steps, creates a pattern which cannot be used in randori geiko or koryu no kata.
Tai sabaki (side stepping) with or without tenshin (body rotation) has to become the first basic way of moving in martial arts training.

A 1-step back option
Stepping straight back can be an option, but only one step, and not multiple steps like in unsoku ho or jodan kuzushi. The “one ” step can be used to make or keep the distance, after keeping the correct ma-ai (distance and/or interval) side stepping or forward stepping is required. Using multiple steps are creating momentum, which can be used by the opponent.

Tandoku undo – Tegatana dosa

Tandoku undo is basically a solo exercise, but the movements of tegatana dosa can be used in a paired format.
As explained in another article, the basic movements of tandoku undo tegatana dosa have their origin in the tegatana no godosa or the 5 handblade movements.

When practising paired exercises, there is always a connection with the partner or opponent. Keep always this connection.

Tegatana dosa – shomen uchi & shomentsuki

Both are performing tegatana dosa 1.
When moving back, keep seichusen slightly forward. Always wait for the offensive movement of the partner. During the practise don’t include a stop, keep the flow going on. Of course keep your zanshin on the action of the partner. Zanshin is keeping the mind on alert.

Although the start of the article mentions “don’t step back”, in the exercise we move back without losing the connection with the partner. There is no excessive momentum created in the own body.

tegatana dosa 1 paired

Tegatana dosa – uchi mawashi & soto mawashi

Both are performing tegatana dosa 2
When moving back, keep seichusen slightly forward. Always wait for the offensive movement of the partner. Keep zanshin. Use tenshikei.
tegatana dosa 2 paired

Alternative method with side stepping. Grasping the wrist is without pulling by contraction of the arm muscles.

tegatana dosa 2 paired side

Starting with the left foot

Why are we starting with the left foot in unsoku-ho and tandoku undo tegatana dosa? This article will cover some teaching aspects for beginners, although advanced practitioners can also benefit by understanding “the why”.

Natural left rotation including our solar system

rotation earth

Every planet in our solar system except for Venus and Uranus rotates counter-clockwise as seen from above the North Pole; that is to say, from west to east.
Also, we know track-and-field events including indoor bicycle racing, is set in the counter-clockwise direction.
In the past, almost everybody travelled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him. Moreover, it reduced the chance of the scabbard (worn on the left) hitting other people.
Furthermore, a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side of the horse, and it would be very difficult to do otherwise if wearing a sword (which would be worn on the left). It is safer to mount and dismount towards the side of the road, rather than in the middle of traffic, so if one mounts on the left, then the horse should be ridden on the left side of the road.

Unsoku and tandoku undo

The first step of unsoku-ho is to move straight forward with the left foot, this is the direction which is often used in a confrontation. On the other hand being able to move forward quickly is not an easy movement thus it requires a lot of training even if we are used to step forward in daily life. The Achilles tendon plays an important role in stabilizing the posture during walking or running. And we all know “shisei” or correct posture is important.
Turning the body left as the first movement would be much easier and better for beginners with their introduction to footwork.  Try and feel the difference between stepping forward with the left foot or turning and stepping with the left foot. Most people will feel more comfortable when turning and stepping, because keeping the balance or seichusen is more easy. If you lean sideways you will feel there is little support or resistance by the leg muscles to slow your move. You can feel that the Achilles tendon does not stop the fall to the side. The use of yōbu will facilitate the sideways movement.

In the early era of Tomiki Aikido, turning and stepping to left (and right) was included in the basic training.

feet turning left

From Kenji Tomiki’s “Introduction to Goshinjutsu” (護身術入門), published in 1974.

Senta Yamada, student of Kenji Tomiki and Morihei Ueshiba performing soto mawashi to the left around 1958.

feet turning left

The foot: a shape for natural shifting

Our foot is designed to be longer than its width. You may feel it is so natural that you do not think about it twice. The shin bone is positioned not in the center but rather towards the back or the heel. This design makes the body better balanced with the body forward. In other words, you can keep your balance pretty well even if someone would push you from behind. However, if someone pushes you from the front, you tend to lose your balance much easier. The same thing can be said when the pressure comes from either the left or right side. Shifting to a side may not be a wise or a desirable move from a martial art perspective, it is, however, a useful training method for a beginner to learn how to shift smoothly and swiftly to the side without turning. Keeping the hip-joint and the knee flexible is required to do a step to the side without turningVoorvertoningSchermSnapz494

Easier to make a hanmi (半身) position


It is easy to step and turn to the left, as mentioned previously. It is a good method to introduce “hanmi” to a beginner while turning and stepping to the left, it will feel more natural. The angle of both feet is about 60°.



tanto tai sabakiLeft posture hanmi will be used as a strategy when your opponent is attacking with the right hand (armed or unarmed). You can easily entering the blind side.








Left turning and/or stepping in other martial arts

Iaido first level (shoden), turning to the left and cut is a basic movement.


Karate kata for beginners, heian shodan start to the left

karate heian left

And in Ballroom dancing : The Waltz

“Man in right posture, step to the left with left foot……” Man is Tori (taking the initiative) and Woman is Uke.

left foot dancing

Nanba walking & Suri Ashi

Nanba Aruki, a walking style from the Edo period (1603-1868).
Nanba is a special walking method of swinging the arm of the same side of the stepping leg which is the opposite of the standard walking method (Western style) we do.


Walking is a skill which all humans learn in their childhood. It is necessary to survive in our world.

The Western way

The transfer of body weight to take a step in daily movements occurs automatically: the force creating the horizontal displacement is the resultant of two vectors; the strike from the leg against the ground and the weight of the body. The dynamic is such that, to produce a movement we must exert a force that goes against that of gravitation. The Western way is globally adopted and is the standard way of walking.

For martial arts purposes, the Western way creates a problem. The opponent can detect the pushing against the floor before the attack becomes apparent and can handle more easily the “ma-ai”. The attack is neutralized by controlling the space : Sen or initiative.

The Eastern way

The principle employed by more classical performers is very different. The transfer of body weight and using gravity will create a situation were it will be difficult to tell how the attack will executed. The application of this principle is masked either by its slowness or speed and the difference can only understood by the skill of taikan*. At the instant of movement, instead of creating a force against the ground, we take away muscular tension from the legs to allow our body weight to come into play and in doing so we transform the force into a horizontal displacement under the control of body weight. Whether it is with a stick, spear, sword or knife, or even empty-handed, the principle of movement that allows the transfer of body weight is associated with rotational body movements whose main axis is the body’s center line, seichusen.

* Taikan : an unconscious bodily feeling process to create bodily communication with opponent.

Suri ashi

The idea in suri ashi is to slide your foot parallel with the floor. It will be easier if you lean your body slightly forward. This is how they teach the Noh walking. What happens here is that your ankles will be bent so that you can move your foot without or with a little lifting of your heel. You cannot take a large step. Why do you want to learn suri ashi?

1) no rocking of the hips,
2) no unnecessary twisting of the upper body
3) no ups and downs of the body.

Unsoku ho – Footwork exercises

Forward and back unsoku

An exercise about “kuzushi” or feeling and using gravity
Using gravity is only possible if the knees and hip joints are flexible.
Again, the sensation of feeling and using gravity will avoid to give a signal to the opponent .

unsoku zengo

We start slowly and sometimes we exaggerate the movement by making it bigger. This gives us the opportunity to create a bodily sensation. Use the kyokotsu point to start the movements.

Sideways unsoku

The previous remarks have the same impact on the sideways unsoku.
By pushing into the ground, the body will raise. Of course we can direct the power sideways, but still we are giving a signal to the opponent.

unsoku sayu

wrong & correct

walking stick

Use the line from the foot to the shoulder line as a stick to keep balance.
The knee of the leading leg must be flexible.
The “walking stick” knee is not locked but not bend.

Diagonal unsoku

In this kind of unsoku we must consider the use of the central body axis or seichusen.
As with the other kind of unsoku, don’t push the leg in the ground to generate power, but use gravity.

unsoku naname zen

unsoku naname go 01

unsoku naname go 02

seiza exercise
The concept of the central axis can be used during suwari waza or sitting techniques.