View Full Version : Tenkan - advanced

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06-20-2010, 01:25 AM

There have been a couple of threads about tenkan recently. One technical discussion about morotedori - a two hand grip http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18086 was very interesting for all the different perspectives and insights.

There was some more good advice in another discussion about tenkan http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18240. Mark Murray and I disagreed about a specific technical point which could have been confusing for beginners but he was very polite and reasonable. We thought a more advanced technical discussion thread about tenkan, not an advice thread for beginners, could be useful. So there is no right or wrong. Any ideas or comments are welcome.

ten means turn or revolve or roll 転

kan means change 換

So tenkan means change with an idea of turning 転換

It doesn't even have to be a physical movement. It can be a change in the situation.

kibun tenkan means a change of mood or a change of pace 気分転換

In aikido a tenkan changes the situation from a confrontational and possibly dangerous state with two people (and their energies) facing each other to a relatively safe and (possibly) cooperative situation with the two people (and their energies) facing in the same direction.

There are going to be differences in the way different ryuha do tenkan and differences even within the same traditions so perhaps it's easiest if I just describe a couple of the different ways of doing tenkan and then everyone else can add their own ideas.

I do all my movements in basically the same way: the first part of my body to move is my face, then my hips, then my trunk and then my shoulders and arms. I move my hips as opposed to my centre because I want to use that hip turn to generate soft controlled centrifugal force. My body is completely relaxed but is natural and full of energy. My posture is straight and my chest and shoulders are open. My heart too hopefully!

It's perhaps also worth pointing out that even though we often do tenkan as a complete exercise that would not normally be the end. Something happens after that!

The orthodox way to do tenkan is a body turn with your back leg describing an arc to end up beside or behind the uke. In the basic movement your arms finish up with your hands extended palm up. Your body weight is transferred through your arms to control the uke.

A second way is similar but with your hips lower and a wrist turn in the opposite direction so that it ends with your palms facing down. The advantage of that method is that the uke is overbalanced upwards instead of downwards. Uke's arm becomes extended and vulnerable and easy to take.

A third way is not to move your back leg. You turn your body but you keep your feet roughly in the original position, just turning them in the other direction. This tenkan is especially effective for breaking the uke's balance. It is also a very effective method for showing you if you are using unnecessary power because if you are you will be blocked easily. I use this tenkan the most because if I want to go in a certain direction (which happens to be the direction the uke is already facing) it seems to me to be wasted motion to go in the wrong direction to get beside or behind the uke first.

A fourth way develops this third way by starting off just by drawing in your wrist to your own centre, keeping the connection to the uke and then continuing that movement by adding a hip turn.

I'm sure there are many other ways and many other approaches.

photo: Gandhi Statue by Brandon Doran (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandondoran/) used under creative commons licence. The ultimate tenkan.

Mark Uttech
06-20-2010, 07:21 AM
Onegaishimasu. Tenkan can be as vast as the turning of the earth; when I stand still I can't do it.

In gassho,


06-20-2010, 08:08 AM
I like that comment, Mark. Very cool and large scale! Linguistically tenkan has the meaning of change so it wouldn't normally be used for a recurring natural phenomenon (because the earth rotates on its axis without producing change). But you can say tenkanki 転換期 for the earth. Ki here means chance - it's the same kanji as go in ichigo ichie 一期一会 (which I used just yesterday in my aikiblog - the chance encounter which will never be repeated). So it can mean an irregular global phenomenon like the volcano eruptions in Iceland or the oil spill in the Gulf.

Keeping with the large scale theme maybe instead of using the tenkan to blend with the direction of the attack we can think about using the tenkan to blend with the direction of the universe... Now we really are in "Tenkan - advanced" territory!

06-20-2010, 08:12 AM
Kancho Inoue mentioned recently that Shioda told him to imagine when doing tenkan, extend ki all the way past horizon and it goes around the world and connects to uke's back. You can almost imagine how uke is being driven forwards from that extension.

Adam Huss
06-20-2010, 10:04 AM
For our practice we use tenkan (転換), or a conversion, to mean a change in stance without moving the feet: basically a 180 deg shift on the balls of your feet. Tenkai (http://linear.mv.com/cgi-bin/j-e/FG=r/jap/%C5%BE%B2%F3?TR) or, revolution/rotation, we use to mean a pivot with the front foot staying in place (typically what most call a tenkan). Click on "Tenkai" should take you to a link with the kanji....should ;o)

Garth Jones
06-20-2010, 04:28 PM
While my partner is still a ways away from me (more than one step) I row forward a little and extend my arm, offering them a target. As they approach I row back, imagining drawing energy out from their center. This helps to establish musubi. As my weight shifts to my back leg, I move my forward foot to the side (not in) just a little so that when I pivot on it my partner can continue along their line uninterrupted.

My goal is to establish a good connection and then move myself with good timing, posture, etc. and not worry about moving them. If everything goes well, they will move past me. If not, then I have to keep practicing.

It is certainly possible to do tenkan where nage keeps their own line and moves uke around them - that's useful practice too. But the above is what I'm working on now....


06-21-2010, 07:02 AM
Just a note before I start. I'm not writing about tenkan in modern aikido. What I write will most likely make no sense at all to most people training in modern aikido.

If you look at the way of aiki (unless noted, by aiki, I mean the Daito ryu aiki which Ueshiba Morihei exemplified) as a method to building a martial and mental body, then the focus is primarily on the person rather than the attacker/uke.

If we look at tenkan in a manner which fits with aiki, then we first look within at what is changing with turning.

There were some good posts on the other thread. I should have included something about the hara/center moving, but didn't. I'll paste my list here and add to it.

1. Imagine stretching the spine upwards and downwards and that it's a straight line. The spine is important and should be kept straight, for the most part. When you turn, if the spine kinks in any manner or deviates from straight up-down, then you will lose structure, stability, and power. (For the most part.)

2. Once you have that, the center starts turning the entire upper body region (from both shoulders all the way down to the "V" area between the hips) around the spine. Imagine the spine turning (clockwise or counterclockwise) in place as you do this. The center is the connection point through the hips to the legs. The center is the connection point through the upper body to the arms.

3. Then at a point where the center and upper body turn starts pulling the legs through the hips, complete the turn. Don't move the hips before 1 and 2 are initiated.

Ancillary explanations.

1. The spine is capable of handling strong loads. See the research articles about African men and women who carry loads on top of their heads efficiently and with a lot less energy.

2. The shoulder and hip joints are two if the major areas of weakness. Slack or a disconnect in these joints will cause loss of stability, structure, and power. Connection from hands to center and feet to center through those joints is a must. Just turning from the rib cage to the shoulders will not work. This is a disconnect from the center and "whole body".

3. If hips and center are joined and move together, or if hips move first, then there is a body issue where same side weighted can be a disadvantage. Same side weighting is the idea of getting someone to put weight all on one side. Judo people tend to do this to the other person right before a throw.

Overall, in many videos of Ueshiba, Shioda, etc, you can slow the video down and watch the movements between their shoulders and their hips. Most of the time, you will see the shoulders start to turn (one going forward while the opposite goes backwards) before they move their hips. In some instances, you can see that their shoulders have turned and then they move straight forward. IMO, an indication that their center initiated movement around the spine starts first and then their hips move. Unfortunately, their body is highly developed and the movements are small and hard to see many times.

I haven't included intent, spirals, or breathe in this post. They are too involved to actually write about, but they are definitely still part of everything. And I didn't mention "cross line" body because I wanted to focus on hips, center, and shoulders.

Garth Jones
06-21-2010, 03:48 PM
Mark, that makes complete sense to me. That sense of stretching the spine, and the excellent posture that results, along with integrity of structure, is very much in line with how Mary Heiny Sensei talks about tenkan.


Adam Huss
06-21-2010, 04:04 PM
Shise O tada shite!

06-21-2010, 04:23 PM
Mark, that makes complete sense to me. That sense of stretching the spine, and the excellent posture that results, along with integrity of structure, is very much in line with how Mary Heiny Sensei talks about tenkan.


I've heard a lot of great things about her. I want to make one of her seminars but the timing or distance never works out right. One of these days, though.

06-22-2010, 04:14 PM
advanced tenkan needs advanced attacks for feedback. for example, katate-dori, uke needs to do a few things,
1. hold nage's wrist in-place and punch or kick with the other hand, ...etc
2. pull toward uke for a punch, elbow, knee, head-butt, various judo throws, ...etc
3. push away for a side kick, round house kick, ...etc
4. uke doesn't play dead weight but much more active

once nage and uke keep those attack parameters in-mind, i.e. input energy and intention are higher, then advanced tenkan can be practiced.

nage focus should be disrupting uke's balance, structure, and ability to deliver attacks on contact. one more restriction, nage shouldn't try to get out of the way, at least until nage comfortable in not getting out of the way consistently. after that, nage can get out of the way or not, it's up to nage.

06-25-2010, 11:21 AM
Initiating a turn from the hips and following though with the hips will almost certainly lead to one side weightedness and control-of you-through that hip. There are ways to turn that way that is still from the hip but can be a more powerful that involve winding but it is still nit optimal movement. There are better ways to move that do not initiate that way and make tenkan hilariously more powerful and magnetic in feel and is much more free at the same time.
The best way I demonstrate this specifically FOR aikido folks is to have them push directly into my hip, say a 240 pound man using a two hand push directly into my hip to keep it planted. I then try turning it toward him and I am stuck and cannot move. Next I initiate movement from the waist/kua and turn inside paying attention just as much to turning away as turning toward. Typically I bounce them out, or else I just lift the leg and show how i can kick them or throw them at will and they cannot stop it from happening.
It is worth considering how can you be turning from the center-and yet pushing and moving a hip? Answer....you're not, you just think you are because you really don't know how to move from your center and have not trained with those who do.

While I am no fan of tenkan in general, there are at least ways to make it more viable. While some people advocate certain internal exercises that turn from the hips,and keep the hips and shoulders aligned- this is antithetical to Japanese weapons use in most of the older traditions and is simply not the optimal way to move. It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of martial artists move that way...so it is understandable how they can't escape from that mindset even transitioning to internal movement. It is a) not the most powerful way to move and b) not the free-est and most versatile way to move either. I have watched videos of some of these exercises and it is obvious that you cannot put weapons in their hand and have the movement be consistent. Oh well.

There is no effective way to describe how to fix it that I have seen. It takes detailed and repetitive work-hands on. I've not met the aikido teacher who wanted to EVER go back to the way they were taught to move, and had been moving after learning how to move from their centers. The difference is stunningly obvious and immediately relevant in their practice.

There is a consistency throughout that is at the heart of aiki. What manifests aiki in your body, manifests aiki in your form, and manifests aiki on contact at any point on your body and manifests aiki in the contact with long weapons. And it ain't from turning the hips!
In a section from the training notes from a student of Sagawa's from the 60's through the 70's he notes a class on aiki-turning in which Sagawa shouts "Face forward and remember..."DO NOT TWIST THE HIPS!"
As the rest of the world goes by doing exactly the opposite and wandering about the crazy power from these old time greats and how they did it!
So it goes....

06-25-2010, 11:42 AM
push directly into my hip, say a 240 pound man using a two hand push directly into my hip to keep it planted. I then try turning it toward him and I am stuck and cannot move. Next I initiate movement from the waist/kua and turn inside paying attention just as much to turning away as turning toward. Typically I bounce them out, or else I just lift the leg and show how i can kick them or throw them at will and they cannot stop it from happening.

where does the power the push go? to neutralize the push, don't you need to ground it in some way? wouldn't that be your feet? you can contain the power inside your body structure, but it can't only handle so much, since F=ma, mass still applies, as in small person can handle less than larger person. trying to figure out the general force vectors of what you are talking about.

06-25-2010, 11:48 AM
It uses both feet. All forces are in opposition.