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.

Integrating Koshi Mawari

This is a sequel on “Aikidō: A Matrix Budō“. We will go deeper into the movements of the koshi, namely koshi mawari. The skill of koshi-mawari is practised at the first place with solo-exercises: tandoku undo.

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)

Shisei or Postures

There are many kind of postures. Each Budō form has his own postures. But there are elements which can be found in each Budō form. A good posture allows maximum efficiency in terms of time and space. Posture is not static, there are always movements in the body to adjust balance and preparation to generate power.

Posture based upon “chidori ashi” will give you a better efficiency in generating coiling or wrapping power (tenshikei). The engine for such kind of power is “koshi mawari” which can be translated as: turning koshi.

When koshi rotates, the opponent is dominated by this rhythm. He has to follow against his will. He experiences the defeat as a non-violent, pleasant experience. That is precisely why it means losing with a smile on your lip.

It must be borne in mind that the arms and legs together with koshi always form a unity of movements. This is called “rendo“.

Feet positions in postures

Shizentai – Neutral Posture

Shizentai or neutral posture can be used as a meditative posture. It is also a posture to have the idea of “ready to start training”.


Shumoku (shimoku) Ashi Posture

Shumoku or shimoku are 2 words for the same concept of foot position in an on-guard posture.

Shumoku originally the wooden bell hammer, a beam that is attached to Japanese bells at right angles. This way of stepping is frequently used with tsugi ashi or shuffle. Remark the 2 pattern: L-position and T-position. Both position will be used when hamni-gamae or sideway posture is adopted. The T-position is more convenient for hito-e-i posture, L-posture will give you a more slightly frontal posture. Sometimes, the front foot is slightly open? Although we speak about posture, we must understand the dynamics of this posture and the methods of changing positions in relation with oppponent.

Kenji Tomiki: It is good to wait in mugamae (shizentai) and to assume hanmi (shumoku ashi posture) as the opponent enters.


Chidori Ashi Posture

Feet position or stepping named after a bird of the same name (chidori=plover), the traces of which resemble those of the feet-position turned outwards.

The chidori foot position differs from the Shumoku position, the front foot is open. Shumoku is not very suitable for our koshi-mawari purposes. Chidori ashi is the perfect method to excellent in koshi-mawari

The front foot turns slightly outward in relation to the direction of the target, the back foot follows at a 90 degree angle to the front foot position. The resulting angle of the front foot of 15 to 45 degrees in relation to the centerline causes the koshi to turn and to lower.

This posture gives an excellent opportunity to perform: “koshi-mawari”. Changing from shumoku ashi into chidori ashi is simple:

  • Turn front foot open
  • Drop bodyweight more into back foot.
  • Turn body almost complete frontal.

Shumoku ashi and chidori ashi can be used to perform unsoku-ho (foot movements).


Shumoku Ashi Gamae

Such a posture will be mostly used during “katachi” or “kata” performances. Bodyweight is more to the back foot. Under the heel of the front foot is an opening of about 1or 2 mm.


Chidori Ashi Gamae

By assuming this posture, the performance of koshi-mawari will be much better.


Chidori ashi and koshi-mawari

Koshi-mawari can be performed at any time without a break, when your koshi is lowered sufficiently, with slightly springy knees. This makes it easier to react spontaneously to changes in any situation. If koshi does not lower in itself, so that one is only stiff and rock-solid, the chidori position cannot be performed. One speaks of a “lifeless”, that is to say an non-energetic position or a stiff kamae. Koshi-mawari and chidori are mutually dependent. If you fail to combine the koshi rotation with the chidor foot position, you run the risk of defeat.

So, we first adopt the chidori postion, let the koshi sink and perform koshi-mawari. Easy, isn’t it.


The term basically describes a lateral “opening” of the body, which, however, should not be confused with simply evading. The starting position is the left or right basic position. Koshi is now turning (without the upper body) in the opposite direction, which means that as soon as you release the resulting tension in the body and combine it with a small step, you come to a slightly laterally offset position next to the baseline without the movement jerky approach. A maximum 15 ° angling is enough to distance yourself from the opponent’s line of attack. It shouldn’t be any more so that the opponent cannot recognize it.
Hiraki uses the ball principle. A ball can rotate freely in a direction from a push or push, depending on the angle of impact, be it horizontally or vertically or in a combination of both directions also in a spiral shape.

Tandoku undo – Taisabaki

Tandoku-undo is just a name for solo-exercises and can have different names depending on the puspose of the exercises. Also, the content of tandoku-undo can also be very different, depending on the school you are practising martial art. As a beginner this is very confusing, the skill is to find out the principles and apply them in the exercises.

Another name for tandoku undo is Taisabaki: the moving body.

All actions have to be seen as an implementation of the free moving body concept. Therefore, tandoku undo or taisabaki regarded as a free moving body movements, should never be neglected as it is a practice for acquiring the principle of yawara, jū or aiki.

Although tandoku undo or taisabaki do not yet result in any techniques, if you train the body in the way the koshi-mawari moves, this has a decisive advantage when it comes to performing specific waza (techniques).

It is a great challenge to integrate “koshi mawari” into Tandoku undo or Taisabaki. Basically the first step to do is integrating chidori ashi posture. Next step is to become familiar with koshi and tanden, the lower part of the central body. This is not easy and will take a few years to become aware.

Koshi mawari is not about turning the hips, there is much more going on. As a reminder, it should be repeated again: in Budō it is very important that the movements are smooth and flexible (yawara). It is best achieved on the basis of the koshi-mawari, i.e. freely rotatable koshi. There is no other way to succeed than to acquire these flowing, spherical, horizontal and vertical rotations. The way there just leads over taisabaki.

Tandoku undo/Taisabaki Points

  • dropping the bodyweight
  • smooth movements
  • stretching the body
  • rotation start with waist movement
  • using diagonal tension (Monjuro Morita concept*)
  • …..

*Monjuro Morita (1889-1978)


Adapted from Kenji Tokitsu book : Miyamoto Mushashi, Myth & Reality

The perfect handling of the sword is produced by the integration of three elements: the rotation of koshi (koshi-mawari), diagonal tension produced by this rotation and displacement of the body.

Traditionally, displacement in tandoku undo is done in a straight line forward. In relation with an opponent, this is of course a mistake. There are basically 3 mistakes (no koshi-turn, left and right koshi-turn without displacement) when considering the integration of koshi into tandoku undo.

To avoid such mistakes, moving slightly of the central line is a solution.

Integration of such an evasion makes the exercise much more difficult. Students have to think in the beginners-phase on many things.

The moving off the central line when introducing foot displacements can be done later when student understand tegatana and koshi movements (see again Morita Monjuro advice about using koshi and diagonal tension).

Tandoku undo – taisabaki

When integrating koshi-mawari into tandoku undo – tegatana no godosa, some adjustements has to be done. Koshi-mawari is often mentioned in explanations, but it is not often seen in demonstrations of katachi, kata or randori.

How to perform a “simple” koshi-mawari

Tegatana no godosa

Originally, Tomiki sensei introduced 5 methods to use tegatana. Those movements are integrated into tandoku undo taisabaki. When introducing the student into the 5 methods with the help of tandoku undo taisabaki, we can start without the foot displacement for tandoku 1 to 3. The integration of koshi maware together with the tegatana movements will be in such a case much more easier.

Starting position for tandoku undo tai sabaki.

Tandoku undo 1

Practising tandoku undo 1 can be done in 2 ways

  • With displacement
  • Without displacement

An example without displacement and turning footwork:

An example with displacement:

Tandoku undo 1

Shōmen-uchi, striking with tegatana from above or from below to the center line of the opponent.

There are different methods to practise.

  • Staying on the central line
  • Moving away from the central line
  • Moving forward
  • Moving backward
  • other…..

Use koshi-mawari when preparing for a strike. This is creating a kind of tension in the body (tenshikei) and can be used as spiral power.

This tandoku undo has many purposes and can be called a multi-purpose skill. Basically there are 3 kinds of skill:

  • Study of “kamae”
  • From jodan gamae attack or defence using shomen-uchi (striking)
  • From gedan gamae attack or defence using shomen-utsu (punching)

Tandoku undo 2

Yokomen-uchi, striking with tegatana to the side of opponent (head, arm,…). This yokomen-uchi has 2 modes: uchi-mawashi and soto-mawashi.

Tandoku undo 3

Tandoku undo 4

Tandoku undo 5

Tandoku undo 6

Tandoku undo 7

Ukimi – The floating body

A lightness of the body, a feeling of complete weightlessness, hovering sensation of the body that is established by koshi-mawari.

When we practise with our without a partners, we must always be ready to use both legs or feet to move. The skill of taijū no dendō is putting the weight in the koshi, not in the legs or feet. If the weight is in the koshi and we move with koshi-mawari and/or unsoku, a feeling of weightlessness will fill the body. An eventually partner will feel almost nothing and his bodyweight will dropp into the floor. Of course if he has the same skill, a different game has to be played. This game is called: hyoshi.

An example of using chidori ashi & koshi-mawari