Tai sabaki - Movement and evasion

By Yossi Sheriff

Tai Sabaki, 体捌き, טאי סבאקי, literally - body movement - refers to techniques of evasion or apporachment in many Japanese martial arts. Most Japanese martial arts, either Koryu or the more recent Gendai Budo, use the term to describe movement.

In the AKBAN instructional curriculum, Tai Sabaki is the fundamental base of preparing and executing Kihon, Kata, Randori and Fighting. It encompasses body movement in all planes, horizontal and vertical alike.

Categories of Tai Sabaki

Movement and techniques of Tai Sabaki can be understood on several parameters:

  1. The way the legs move (stepping, jumping, dragging, etc. ).
  2. Plane of movement (sideways, forward, up, etc.)
  3. Timing the movement in relation to the opponent's technique.
  4. Ballistics (jump, dive, roll, etc. )

Sabaki by direction and plane of movement

Front Tai Sabaki

Tai Sabaki to the front can be used in various ways. Either on the horizontal plane or on the vertical axis by utilising downward moguri or a jump.

Tsuki, full step forward

A step to the front while changing the front facing leg is called in Ninjutsu , Tsuki. The movement of the Tsuki Tai Sabaki utilises the full step to cover the distance between the initial stance and the opponent. This stepping movement can be used to deliver an empty hand punch, a weapon technique or to get near the opponent and hinder his punching effectivity.

Tsugi Ashi, sliding step forward

Tori advances toward the opponent while maintaining his bearing and not altering the side that faces forward. The legs advance with minimal amount of lifting, while maintaining contact and width of stance. This sliding step is very common in many martial sports and in martial arts that prepare solely for fighting on flat, even, ground. In Ninjutsu, TSKSR and many Koryu, this forward sliding step is called Tsugi Ashi.

Aruki, walking step forward

Tori advances forward while stepping, usually while maintaining a sideways orientation toward the opponent to minimise target area.

Yoko Tai Sabaki - side evasion

The side evasion is a movement done in a straight angle to the initial Tori stance. This movement can be either a jump, a full step, or a sliding side step. When Uke advances in an energetic attack then executing the side Tai Sabaki correctly will leave the defender behind the opponent.

Ushiro Sabaki - backwards evasion

Distancing backwards is called Ushiro or Koho Tai Sabaki. Using this movement defender creates distance from the opponent while staying on the opponent's line of advance. The actual movement can be a full step, a sliding step or a jump. A backward evasion in combat is intuitive and many times achieve only momentary goal since it leaves the defender on the opponent's line of attack.

Naname Ushiro Sabaki - diagonally back movement

The backward oblique, or diagonally back direction is one of the most useful techniques in many combat scenarios and it is the most emphasised sabaki in Ninjutsu grade exams. This direction of movement not only builds distance between the opponents, but also removes the defender from the opponent's line of attack. The diagonally back evasion can be done in a tsugi ashi, a sliding step, a walking step, an Aruki, or a jump, Tobi.

Video of Ushiro Aruki, a diagonal using a step

Video of a Tobi, a diagonal using a jumping step

Video of Moguri, a downward evasion

Understanding Sabaki by the patterns of leg movement

Tai Sabaki in the actual battlefield

Some Koryu techniques, and Ninjutsu techniques included, share stepping patterns that were optimised while fighting on mixed and uneven terrain. These stepping patterns of sabaki disappeared, from lack of need, from most martial sports that are practiced in modified arenas. The stepping system in those arts that emerged in an outdoor battle arenas use a sensitive positioning of the legs to prevent a fall or a loss of balance.

Video of the stepping principle of Ninjutsu outside Tai Sabaki

Using walking steps for Sabaki

The step forward, or backward, is performed while maintaining a front facing side and presenting a smaller target. The Aruki step conceals the kicking leg and allows for a rapid distance closing while protecting oneself.

Video of using steps for movement in combat

Video summery of the major movement directions

Lessons that included emphasis on Tai sabaki technique