The Heart of Okinawan Bujutsu: Taisabaki-Kaihi (Dodging)

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

The two full contact fighters stood across the ring from each other. Each wanted to win and become champion. Both men were physically fit, with well-defined muscles, long and lean. Both men had trained hard, working out on the heavy bag, sparring round after round, and running to build their wind. Each hoped to walk out of the arena that day being called the champion. As the referee yelled begin, the men charged straight into each other, slamming body against body, rocking the ring with the impact of their bodies colliding. The fight almost ended right there, with both losing, because of their heads cracking together from the frontal charge.

Then there is the story of the great Okinawan Bushi, who faced a swordsman, a Samurai from Japan. The Katana held in the warrior's hands was razor sharp, and had been tested and known to cut a man from shoulder to hip. The Okinawan warrior had been training most of his life. Now in his thirties, he had been taught by his father and mother the family art of Bushi Te. He had also had the privilege of training with a Chinese monk in the Chugoku Kempo, Chinese martial arts, and was well versed in numerous techniques. He had trained with many weapons during his youth, but while he was allowed to keep weapons at home and train with them, he was not allowed to carry them in public, so he found himself across from the Japanese Samurai bereft of any weapon.

The Samurai was having a bad day. Things had not gone well for him with his superiors who chided him for his negative attitude and behavior. He had a tendency to drink too much and was in debt with several people from whom he had borrowed money. To top it off he had tried to gain comfort for his woes with the forced companionship of an Okinawan women, who screamed at his advances, until he finally slapped her down and decided to rape her. Only then this oaf of an Okinawan bumpkin (the Samurai didn’t know he was a Bushi) had come running, summoned by her yells.

The Okinawan realized that his time of training was over as he watched the Samurai draw his sword and prepare to attack. He realized that he was not only fighting for his own life, but that of the woman as well. He remembered the words of his father well, "The secret of any battle is avoiding the weapon of the enemy". Then he cleared his mind and prepared to defend himself.

The Samurai slashed at the Okinawan's shoulder, but the man dodged, making the blade miss. But the Japanese was well trained and quickly prepared to strike yet again. This time his blade traveled horizontally, to slice open the Okinawan's stomach, but once again the man dodged, making the blade miss by inches. As the Samurai recovered from the missed strike, the Okinawan had time to grab a boat oar laying on the beach upon which they were fighting.

The Japanese growled deep in his throat and attacked with a downward slash, wanting to split the Okinawan's head into. But the Okinawan moved slightly to the left and brought the boat oar up, striking the hands of the attacker, knocking the Katana out of the Samurai's grip. A lighting quick side kick dropped the attacker to the ground, but he recovered quickly and rose to a kneeling position and began to draw his Wakizashi, short sword, but the Okinawan changed position to make the blade miss and drove the oar down on the Samurai's head. The battle was over, he and the girl would survive. Sadly, the Samurai did not.

True Events

The two tales just related are based on true events. The main points really did happen. When we look at them we see that modern Karateka, such as those engaged in the full contact bout, tend to charge straight in, as many competitors in combative sports do. But the ancient Okinawan Bujutsuka made it a point to always move in such a way as to avoid each blow the Samurai made. There is much to be derived from this simple difference.

Original martial arts training was self defense training. Today many systems are only concerned with tournament fighting or Olympic competition, and while there is nothing wrong with competitive training, it is not in and of itself self defense training. Actually training for sporting events can be the direct antithesis of self defense training. This is because of two main points. First of all, in order to be effective in sport martial arts there must be a certain level of aggressiveness. Most combat sports actually have a penalty for an opponent who is 'non-combative' or who tries to run from his attacker, an attitude that is quite effective on the street. There are many situations where if a person is patient and can avoid entering actual physical conflict, the attacker will quite the scene for fear of being seen or someone calling the police. Patience is a very important part of real self defense, but is potentially a point of penalty in a competition.

The second point is that when one trains for an event, they have to train in only the skills allowed in that particular sport. In example, while throw, chokes, and certain joint locks against the elbow are allowed in Judo, punches and kicks are not. In Karate, joint attacks and body throws are not allowed, but punches and kicks, of course are. Thus limited attack points are studied, as are limited strategic concepts. This is necessary to make the event 'fair', but self defense on the street is not fair.

It is funny to notice the current debate and argument between grapplers and strikers to see how silly, in regard to real combat, sport training truly is. Judo people do not want to throw punches reflexively, since in a competition, the accidental use of a punch could disqualify them. In the same sense, Karate people cannot grab someone and do a throw, with the exception of a few foot sweeps, because it is not allowed in their sport. But look at both the Judo and the Karate ancient curriculum and you will see punches and kicks in the Judo self defense syllabus, and throws in the Karate program.

A great Cuban Judoka by the name of Roberto Fuentes put it succinctly in the novel he co-wrote with Piers Anthony, published back in 1974, "There (is) less distinction between Judo and Karate at the higher levels than most people believed. Probably the same applied for all the major martial arts; an expert at one was a man of many powers."

Non Sport Combat

One only has to look at the curriculum of any of the older martial arts systems to see that they always contained both grappling and striking. The oldest name for empty hand to hand combat in Japan was Kumi Uchi, which literally does mean, grappling and striking. When it comes to self defense, or any form of serious non-sport combat, everything should be taught. How to use weapons, grappling and striking. This is the real art of self defense.

The current state of affairs with the mixed (up) martial artists is even worse. Because they think they are trying to learn some skills of Karate and some skills of Judo (Jujutsu) and add in skills from kickboxing and other quasi martial arts like Sambo, they are actually really learning nothing. You cannot become a master with a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things. The ancient arts taught a truly unified, not mixed, form of martial arts, which the mixed martial artists cannot comprehend or recognize the difference.

And the most essential part of combat, and that which is at the heart of not only Okinawan Bujutsu, but all true martial arts, is dodging. Before you can effectively defend yourself, you must make sure you are not injury. The best way to fight, is not to get hit. This is accomplished through Taisabaki, which literally means, body movement or manipulation.

However, in this case it might be better to look at a more common word for dodging, which is Kaihi. Kaihi is made up of the two Kanji, Kai, meaning to 'go around', and Hi, which means 'avoid', 'stay away from', and 'avert'. By looking at the three combinations that result from these Kanji we can come to a full understanding of dodging as it should be practiced in the martial arts.

Go Around to Avoid

First of all, Kaihi can mean to 'go around to avoid'. In this context, then what we want to do is avoid any contact with the attacker's weapons completely. In many situations if you avoid the assailant's attack, you can avoid fighting all together. While this does not always work, it is worth the effort of making the attacker miss, without escalating the situation immediately. This strategy is especially advisable for children on a playground, in that they can dodge around an attacker, such as your typical bully, and head for the teacher, where the ruffian will not want to follow. This is also a good way to teach children to initially deal with adult assailants as well. Due to the much greater size of an adult attacker, it is unwise to teach children to go toe to toe in a fighting situation. But the child can be instructed in dodging techniques which will keep the adult from getting their hand on the child while the child seeks a place of safety or calls out loudly that the person is not their parent, hopefully attracting attention and help, if not just scaring the assailant away for fear of arrest and testifying witnesses.

Go Around and Stay Away From

The second meaning can be 'go around and stay away from'. In this situation it is advisable to dodge the attack and use a block to keep the attacker's 'weapon' away from you. This is especially useful when dealing with a weapon such as a knife, where even an accidental contact could cause considerable injury. In this type of situation, all types of blocks are used to deflect the attacking limb.

Go Around and Avert

The third meaning of 'go around and avert' can be taken to mean that the limb is then captured and averted from any type of contact with your body. In this third concept we can infer the use of joint locks and other types of grappling skills. Thus we see that in all three meanings we have the idea of flowing around the attack. In the first case, just to avoid the situation completely, in the second, we block the attacking limbs away, and finally we capture and control if necessary. As always in self defense one should only do what needs to be done and never more. In example, if a person seeks to attack you and you can dodge the person, without any contact and can get through a door to safety, then do so. If there does not need to be a fight, avoid it completely.

However, if the person is obviously skilled and you can block the attack effectively, causing the attacker to cease hostility, that is the best avenue. In a real life situation, when the author was in law enforcement, a football player who was caught trying to break into a girl’s dorm took a swing at him. The author used left forward diagonal dodge and an outer circular block, at which point the assailant gave up. The author did not use another technique, because it was not necessary.

Nevertheless, if it is necessary to actually use a technique, a dodge puts you in the best possible position from which to counter and having averted the attack should open points of vulnerability upon your opponent. In actual self defense it is necessary to know the most vital points to hit, since you never know what the exact alignment of your bodies will be. It is important to know the vital point from directly in front of an assailant. But also know the vital areas from a forty five degree forward angle, from the side, and from the back. They are all important. Too many people only emphasize the target located on the face and down the centerline. Then once they are in a real situation and a person is facing them from a different position, while maintaining a protective head guard, the people are unable to deal with the situation.

Eight Basic Dodges

There are eight basic dodges which should be practiced. First of all, you can dodge forward and to the outside (referring to the back of the assailant). Then you can dodge forward and to the inside (referring to the front of the assailant). The third dodge is straight to the outside and the fourth is straight to the inside. The next dodge is back and to the outside, the sixth dodge is back and to the inside. The last two dodges are the Tenkan, or pivots, normally associated with Aiki and Jujutsu techniques. In these you place your weight on one foot pivoting on it as you swing your leg in a circle, ending up just outside of the attacking limb, allowing for many throws, joint locks, and other grappling techniques.

Obviously there is one more dodge, which is simply going straight back, but that puts you in position for the attacker to continue chasing you with a combination of striking techniques, or try to grapple you. Never dodge straight back, unless you have excellent interception techniques. The stop kick of Bruce Lee is a good example of what can be done if the person chases you and you dodge straight back. Generally speaking, however, it is best to dodge away at some angle, making the assailant having to reorient themselves to your new position, giving you time to initiate a counterattack.

Building on the Dodges

Once you have learned the eight dodges then you should practice the same movements adding blocks. Next add strikes, and finally you can dodge and apply counter joints or other types of grappling techniques. Ultimately, you can then practice combinations where you dodge, block, strike, and joint lock. This would be in the tradition of the great Okinawan Bujutsu masters. The great Okinawan Kempo Karate master, Choki Motobu, was especially well known for his dodging skills. Motobu would subtlely slip past an opponents attack and land one of his own upon a vital point of the assailant. This is the pinnacle of the Okinawan martial arts and it is all based on the ability to dodge.

One final point that should be made, while all Okinawan Karate styles need to be aware of this particular principle, in that it is central to their respective systems, American Kempo systems also need to take note of this method. While there has been much written recently regarding the history of Kempo in the United States, the truth is, James Masayoshi Mitose did in fact bring Kempo to the United States territory and was the first person to actually teach Kempo to American citizens. Mitose's footwork, which can be seen in his book, WHAT IS SELF DEFENSE? KEMPO JUJUTSU (KENPO JIUJITSU), is a combination of Choki Motobu's Okinawan footwork and Koga Ninjutsu Ashisabaki. But the most important aspect is that each technique deals with subtle dodging of the attack, before moving in and applying a counterattack. Therefore, while some have forgotten the principle, due to the more aggressive and linear methods of moving for competition, the ancient forms of Karate and Kempo majored on angular footwork, which was designed to remove the body from the line of attack. Or more simply put, true self defense, based on the original concepts of combat, places dodging among it most important priorities. Thus if one wants to practice the skills of the ancient Bushi, of both Japan and Okinawa, in the manner that they were developed for actual combat, they must first learn proper Taisabaki, body movement, and master the skills of Kaihi, dodging.

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