founder Tatsuo Shimabuku
course or direction or shifting position
“All things in the universe will change” ~ Shimabuku
Further explanations on Michiko Onaga demonstrating ‘tenshin’
or body shifting punching techniques on the makiwara. She demonstrates
how to shift and change direction using body power through speed
and agility to deliver a devastating punch into a makiwara.
It was not a demonstration of gamaku but a demonstration of
foot and body movement or placement shifting the position of
the body, then striking the makiwara and driving through it
to hit and damage internal organs of the body. To show the power
of the punch, a fishing weight or sinker is placed on a cord
hanging from the ceiling about a inch behind the top of the
makiwara board. The object of the demonstration was to prove
the makiwara was driven back enough to strike the lead sinker
proving to the viewer the penetrating power of the punch through
tenshin, or body shifting.
In the video, Onaga calls it “The feeblest tiniest physique
can generate an amazingly destructive punch.” How is it possible
that his tiny daughter with a petite physique is able to demonstrate
such amazing punching power? Onaga calls it “Fundamentals of
‘tenshin’ bodily movement to enhance your punching and kicking
power.” “Tenshin” means body shifting or changing and goes with
the Kenpo gokui code “The body should be able to change direction
at any time.”
I have often demonstrated this but in dealing with maii or fighting
interval between you and your opponent and closing the gap.
Tatsuo did Tenshin by shifting and shuffling toward the makiwara
it while using a reverse punch driving the force of his punch
into the makiwara. Naturally, his added body weight and shifting
added a greater force to his punch.
In this day and age where many give martial arts seminars where
there is very little body movement taught in demonstrating body
shifting karate techniques, understand that knowing how to perform
tenshin is vital, especially when confronting a much larger
opponent or multiple opponents.
Tenshin training starts with eight direction training using
the kanji for kome (rice). The kanji for rice or in Japanese
language kome , shows the eight primary directions. North, South,
West and East and the four corners. The kanji for kome is also
used to demonstrate the 8 directions in the kusanku kata.
see kanji for kome:
When shifting it is essential to float above the surface of
the ground or base you are on. In a building with a solid floor
like a basketball wooden floor, or in a dojo there would be
no problem, but outdoors on terrain where surface conditions
can vary to many different degrees from sand on a beach to jagged
razor sharp coral as found on beaches in Okinawa. it would be
much more difficult and is the reason this training must be
practiced outdoors on different terrain.
In the case of Michiko Onaga, her small body type is perfect
to demonstrate Tenshin or body shifting. Not only does she have
a petite body, but she is also in excellent physical condition.
It is obvious that she does a lot of makiwara training by seeing
the well formed conditioned calloused knuckles on her fists.
I know of no American females who constantly train bare knuckle
punching on makiwara or at least shows the signs of having highly
developed calloused knuckles. A sure sign Michiko Onaga trains
One of the keys to swift body shifting is to understand that
trying too hard only makes the effort look stiff and often slows
the transition. Smooth and effortlessly is the way it should
look, and this is only accomplished through constant practice.
If one understands balance and body centering, and how to use
one’s tanden then this is half the battle to tenshin.
At seminars I constantly see the majority awkwardly perform
proper tenshin because of their posture . When I perform kata
with someone else I pass them by no matter how tall or quick
they are because I understand shifting and movement. Watch Tatsuo
and you doing kata in 1958 and you will see very smooth, fluid
body movement. Ciso often said, “Look at my father perform kata
and you will see very smooth action. Ciso would say, “My father
said Isshin-ryu should be in-between Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu
karate. It must be smooth.” I agree with Ciso that Isshin-ryu
is in the middle yet being created with aspects from two modes
of Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, kobudo and Tatsuo own innovations,
it can when necessary lean towards one Style (Shorin-ryu/Goju-ryu)
over the other when necessary.
This is known as the ‘Doctrine of the mean.’ The “Doctrine of
the mean“ is also translated as:
• the Mean (D.C. Lau)
• the Constant Mean (Huang,
• the Middle Way (Simon
• the Middle Use (Arthur
• the Common Centrality
(Tu Wei ming)
• the Unwobbling Pivot,
or the Pivot (Ezra Pound).
In other words staying in the path or road and not deviating
from the path, road or way. The path is better known as the
“Tao” or “Do” and this is where we get the ‘Do’ in karatedo
What make a style is the path in which it follows. Each of the
various Okinawan karate styles emphasize certain techniques
over another therefore different paths (Tao/Dao/Do).
This is why it is proper and essential to study other martial
arts so that we get a greater understanding for several reasons.
1. We have to combat them we understand their strength
2. If looking at the source, Shorin-ryu (Kyan lineage)
and Goju-ryu Miyagi lineage we get a better understanding of
our own style, Isshin-ryu.
3. What you will find is that all Okinawan karate and
kobudo that emphasize the ‘do’ even though they follow different
paths will end at the same destination. That is the Tao/dao/do.
While all ryu take different paths and use or emphasize different
the ‘tao/dao/do’ or road is the common thread that keeps us
together. Tatsuo said, “All bottles are good.”
So tenshin means ‘changing course or direction or shifting position.
In combat it is essential and learning from those who do it
well is essential. It is also essential to practice gokui (essential
points) from other styles but understand that returning to the
center is understanding the “Doctrine of the mean.” That is
what makes a ‘ryu’, a style and Isshin-ryu is a style and has
its own unique way of doing things.
Remember what the
I Ching (Book of Changes) say about change:
"In the Book of Changes a distinction is made between three
kinds of change: nonchange, cyclic change (recurrence), and
sequent change (non-recurrence). Nonchange is the background,
as it were, against which change is possible. For in regard
to any change there must be some fixed point to which the change
can be referred; otherwise there can be no definite order and
everything is dissolved in chaotic movement. The point of reference
must be established, and this always requires a choice and decision.
It makes possible a system of coordinates into which everything
else is fitted. Consequently at the beginning of the world,
as at the beginning of thought, there is the decision, the fixing
of the point of reference....The ultimate frame of reference
for all that changes is the unchanging."
“All things in the universe will change” Tatsuo
a follower of the I Ching said, but his teachings should never
change. For Isshin-ryu must always have a fixed point or frame
of reference, and that is the mean or center. That never changes.
At least the I Ching says so. AJA
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