Walking, the Japanese style

Footwork, every martial art style has a specific kind of footwork. This is mainly based on how people are moving in their society. Japanese martial arts are no exception. In traditional Japanese arts, footwork occupies a prominent place.

In this article we will cover “shumoku-ashi”, “chidori-ashi”, “aruki” and “nanba”.


It refers to a foot stance in which the toes of the front foot are facing forward and the back foot is facing sideways almost at right angles to it, or a foot stance in which the front and back legs are both open and the accuracy of both feet is at right angles.
In ancient martial arts, there are many stances like this, but in modern kendo, it is considered a bad stance because it weakens the stepping force and prevents rapid forward and backward movements.

When practicing with shinai, the feet are parallel, but when performing kata with a wooden sword or a serious weapon, the feet are in shumoku.

The Ono-ha Itto style of Sasaburo Takano, the founder of modern kendo, used parallel feet, but Eigoro Nakahata, a kenjutsu master of the Ono-ha Itto style from the Hirosaki domain, used shymoku-ashi. (see picture)

Origin of shumoku

A shumoku is a T-shaped wooden bell hammer that is used to strike a bell.

Shumoku-ashi and Aikidō

In ancient martial arts, there are many stances like this, but in modern kendo, it is considered a bad stance because it weakens the stepping force and prevents rapid forward and backward movements.
Aikidō is a modern budō (gendai) but is based upon older traditions and use some elements of Bujutsu.

In traditional Aikidō, shumoku-ashi is a basic feet pattern. Chidori-ashi is a related feet pattern.


Chidori is a name that has been around since the Nara period, and the “chi” in plover is thought to represent the sound it makes.

This type of footwork is fundamental for koshi-mawari or bodyturn.

Shumoku-ashi & chidori-ashi & Tomiki Aikidō

In Tomiki style of Aikidō, shumoku-ashi is fundamentally used during performance of traditional kata. When randori and certainly shiai is involved, the feet are more in the direction of parallel feet pattern.

During a seminar (March 2007), Fumiaki Shishida – JAA-Shihan re-introduced the concept of chidori-ashi.

  1. Unsoku (Shumoku-ashi 3 basics, Chidori-ashi, Denden-daiko)
  2. Quick posture change from natural posture
  3. Tegatana-awase (including the principle of Japanese swordsmanship)
  4. Shotei-awase (Skill to stop the partner.)
  5. Applications (Balance breaking with chidori-ashi, Relaxation from a hand sword)

If you are only focused ont the sportside of Aikidō, the use of shumoku-ashi can be of no use for you and will be not included in your daily training programme. Chidori-ashi can be included if you like to use more bodyturns in your training.

Nanba-aruki, Japanese style of walking

‘Nanba’ is a walking action that moves the hands and feet on the same side, which is seen in Roppo, which is a movement of Kabuki and Noh in Japan.

It became known to the general public through the writings of Kono Yoshinori, a researcher of ancient martial arts . There is a theory that nanba-walking was widely practiced among ordinary people in Japan before the Edo period , but it disappeared with the introduction of Western lifestyles after the Meiji period. However, there is no rigorous confirmation of how Japanese people walked before modern times.

Schema of the normal walk and the Nanba walk from the top view. Nanba walking uses 1 axis alternately situated in the advanced leg.

Western style of walking uses 1 axis in the middle, the lower body moves in an opposite direction from the upper body.

Shumoku-ashi is based upon a nanba style of walking.

When using shumoku-ashi (nanba-aruki), changing to tsugi-ashi is easy. When using 1-axial (Western walking) the change to tsugi-ashi is more difficult.

2-axial walking basic kata

Article by Kuniko Araki, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

In the New Year, Japanese people often dress in Japanese clothing. If you’re not used to walking in Japanese clothes, you won’t feel right.

As you advance, land on the entire sole of the foot that you walked on. Keep your hands on your thighs and don’t swing your arms. Think of “suriashi” like in traditional Japanese culture such as Noh.

Did you know that this Japanese way of walking is actually more efficient, less tiring, safer and healthier? If you look at the whole body movement, you can see that when you step out and land on your feet, the pelvis on the same side moves forward with the feet, propelling the body forward.

 From the right shoulder to the right leg, from the left shoulder to the left leg each form one axis . When moving forward, these two left and right axes move alternately. Do not twist your pelvis and shoulders, and do not put excessive force on your body. You can  move forward efficiently by moving only the minimum parts of your body.

This style of walking, “bi-axial walking,” places less pressure on the lumbar vertebrae, because the vertical motion of the body is small. In Edo times, messengers and ninjas used this efficient walking method to travel long distances rapidly.

Bi-axial walking is easy to master. Place the middle, index and ring fingers of both hands in front of your thighs. Loosen your knees slightly without straightening them, and assume a slightly lowered stance. First, make a slight step on the spot so that your fingers do not slip from your thighs.

In general, the recommended way to improve health and increase energy consumption is to walk by swinging your arms and landing on your heels. Also referred to as a “walking exercise”. The way he walks with his chest puffed out and swinging his arms around looks cool. It has a wide stride, so it moves quickly.

However, this walk should be done with caution. Impact loading on the body is one of them. The impact of the heel of the outstretched foot landing on the ground is transmitted to the lumbar spine. Weak abdominal and back muscles and poor posture increase the impact. Many people who walk long distances in this way suffer from back pain. On snowy or icy paths, landing from the heel has the disadvantage that it is easier to fall over.

In exercise walking, the right arm and left leg and the left arm and right leg are alternately swung out and forward. Unlike Japanese walking, the pelvis and shoulders move in opposite directions, twisting and inverting as they move forward, with the centre of the body as one axis. The energy expenditure is high, but the efficiency of the movement is low, as the body is moved in large movements by kicking the ground powerfully and swinging the arms.

Intentionally increase the amount of energy or choose a walking style, which is easier for the body. Walking is an everyday activity, but it is recommended to change how you walk based on your goals.