Taisabaki and tenshin - evasion in karate: Part 1

"Taisabaki" means body movement. Most schools however use this term to refer to a type of body shifting the goal of which is to move in relation to the attacker both to avoid a blow and gain a position of advantage. Certainly that is how we used the term “taisabaki” when I was first taught in my "home" dojo.

However, translated literally the term “taisabaki” or “sabaki” might mean any kind of body movement – including stepping up and down the floor in zenkutsu (forward stance) for that matter.

It is my view that the Okinawan word "tenshin" is more accurate to cover evasive body movement. It encompasses any kind of evasion - whether the feet move away from their position or not.

“Embusen” is a term generally used to refer to the directions of movement in a kata although some use that term to describe the angles of evasion. There are 8 principal angles of evasion — 10 if you count up and down and more if you factor in compound movements such as "weaving”.

There are also multiple ways in which those angles can be attacked (ie. stepping, lunging, pivoting, stepping and pivoting, stepping and turning etc.) Then there is also the question of what stances are used, where weight is distributed at a particular point, and so on.

Stepping 45 degree back in zenkutsu/sanchin/neko was the first tenshin I was taught. Soon afterwards I was taught the "open door" evasion (ie. pivoting on the spot so that you slip your attacker’s blow and end up “side-on”).

Kata have within them advanced forms of tenshin – both manifest and necessarily implied. A source of study for me in recent years has been deconstructing the kata with a view to examining the different tenshin that arise, particularly in bunkai.

It is precisely these tenshin that we have used as the foundation of our “embu” (2 person drills) for each kata. In future articles I hope to examine specific tenshin from kata in more detail. For now those who are interested can download a summary of tenshin from kata up to sanseru here:

I am amazed at how many karateka look blankly at me when I refer to particular tenshin (such as the one I call "opening the door"). Many are surprised to find that one can do more than step straight backward in zenkutsu. I think this is very lamentable given the importance of tenshin in karate.

Graham Ravey (head of the TOGKF) said to me back in 1989 that tenshin is at the core of goju-ryu yet it is a largely forgotten skill. I respectfully agree with him. Deconstructing a kata by reference to the tenshin, in particular the footwork, gives surprising insights into kata. [The picture to the right shows Graham Ravey during a seminar in Perth in 2004.]

Go to Part 2 of this article.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic