For those interested in discovering Aikido.

Roku tai no henko of the Chushin Tani

Chushin Tani, Roku Tai no Henko
Relative position changes

The a direct translation of “tai no henko” would be something to the effect of “body changes”. This phrase has a long association with the practice of Aikido. Aikido’s founder Ueshiba Morihei is quoted as saying that tai no henko is at the very foundation of the practice of Aiki. The founder demonstrated three kinds of body movement in his book “budo”, one of these forms was an irimi (entering) form, another was a tenkan (turning) form and the last was an irimi-tenkan (entering and turning) form. While the founder calls only the turning form “tai-no-henka”, in the book, it is clear that all three of these movements are foundational to Aikido’s relative movement. Yoshinkan Aikido has two “tai no henko”, “tai no henko ichi”, which is an irimi movement and “tai no henko ni” which is a tenkan or angular movement. Today most schools of Aikido practice only a turning form of tai no henko, sometimes referred to by the founder as tenkan no henko, or turning change. While this turning practice is extremely important and most certainly merits a place in the foundation of our system, there are several other movement variations that I feel should be isolated and understood. In my school we have began practicing six different position changes, we call these the roku tai no henko. I feel that these six movement types have made both teaching and learning Aikido much simpler.

For quite some time I searched for the fundamental blends of Aikido. I was looking for the root of our movements, so that I could more closely study it in the hopes of better understanding our system. For a really long time I failed to find the core movements, there seemed to be so many variations, hand and body changes that were too numerous to reasonably isolate. The solution struck me by surprise one day when I was working with some of my students. I was trying to explain a rather complicated series of movements to them and they just weren’t getting it. So I had them just focus on the steps they were taking and not bother with the hand moments. I realized that no matter what Aikido techniques they did, in relation to their partner there were only a few major position changes that kept being used over and over. I isolated these, and found six distinct movements. I began thinking about these movements everyday while working with the system. Before long it was quite clear that these six movement patterns formed the ideal position changes of Aikido, and were at the very core of our system. I began teaching them to my students and soon realized that intellectually understanding these six position changes made teaching and understanding what we did in Aikido much much simpler. With an understanding of these movements much more precise instruction could be given when explaining a technique. These moments eliminate much of the frustration for both teacher and student, during the learning process. As I worked on these movements, more and more I began to think that these fundamental movements where the type of thing Ueshiba Sensei was describing when he talked about “tai no henko” and started to call them the “roku tai no henko” or the six body changes.

There are six fundamental position changes or tai no henko. They can be easily grouped into two sets, the angular steps and the flowing steps. Regardless of hand or foot position theses six relational movements apply to all Aikido technical forms. They can be done from Gyaku (opposite) hanmi, Ai (same) hanmi, or ushiro (rear) hanmi. They represent the ways we move in order to get the advantageous positions desired during physical conflict. These six movements are always judged in relation to another person, and are not considered as “stand alone” footwork. The names of these six movements come from a description of how you move in relation to another person, they are inseparable from your partners position relative to you.

­First I’ll describe the Flowing moments. There are three of these, and they include:

Soto Mawari (outside turn)
Uchi Mawari (inside turn)
Irimi (entering)

Soto Mawari- is done by circling to the outside of Uke (your partner). This movement is the most common tai no henko shown in Aikido practice and is often thought of as the principle or primary body change. Soto Mawari movement will appear any time Uke is pushing toward you with a narrow grip. The nice thing about Soto Mawari movement is it easily accommodates someone who is trying to push you back with great force. This will allow you to blend with a very powerful forward motion from your Uke.

Uchi Mawari- is Aikido’s inside turn. It is done by circling inside towards your Uke. Uchi Mawari movement is most often used when Uke is trying to incircle you; wrapping around to tackle or clinch with you. Uchi Mawari movement enables us to slide around Uke, getting away from his flanking strikes or grabs.

Irimi- This is the second most commonly signified Aikido tai no henko. The idea in Irimi movement is to pass directly by Uke, quickly getting behind them and into the dominate position.

flowing steps diagram (click to enlarge)

These first three tai no henko, the flowing movements, represent ideal Aiki interactions with a physical attack. The first two, Soto and Uchi Mawari represent circular movements. The “Ura” movements of Aikido that allow us to blend with a stronger force. The third tai no henko, “Irimi” represents the triangle- a precise piercing motion. This shows the “Omote” side of Aikido, the direct and perfectly timed motions of a practiced Aikido student. These three movements represent an ideal of Aiki motion in a flowing or “Ki-no-Nagari”/”Ki-Musubi”.

The next section is the Angular Tai no Henko. This section of three includes:

Yon-ju-go do Sabaki (45 degree movement)
Sankaku Sabaki (triangular movement)
Chokaku Sabaki (right angle movement)

Yon-ju-go do Sabaki- This movement is done by changing the angle you are facing Uke with, to 45 degrees. This can be done to the inside, outside or rear of Uke. When making a “45 step” Nage will keep the same lead foot.

Sankaku Sabaki- This movement also places Nage at a 45 degree angle to Uke, however when doing this movement Nage changes his lead foot.

Chokaku Sabaki- In this movement, Nage will place himself at a 90 degree angle to Uke. When looking at Nage’s final position it is important that Nage’s back leg be the leg closest to Uke.

Angle steps diagram (click to enlarge)

While the flowing steps tend to have a movement that flows in relation to Uke, the angular steps represent stable solid positions from which Uke can be addressed. This second set of three tends to represent not only the piercing power of the triangle, but also the stability and solid grounded connection of the square. These three steps teach us how to move into a strong grounded position.

Ai hanmi video

Gyaku hanmi video

When looking at these six very simple movements, it’s easy to be a little underwhelmed. They are so simple, and seem to leave out quite a bit of the different variations found in typical Aikido blending practice. However their simplicity is their strength. These six movements, once understood are at the foundation of every movement we make in Aikido. Through teaching these six movements I have found it significantly easier to describe a new motion to my students. I have also noticed that their ability to break down and understand techniques has gone up quite significantly. Further when attempting to catalogue techniques, these six movements give us a nice point to start from. By understanding this (the tai no henko) large chunk of the the technique it makes remembering and understanding subsequent variations of each movement much easier.

Give them a try and see how they work out for you. They have done wonders for our Dojo!

-Christopher Hein

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