Wikipedia is a wealth of sagely advice – much of it misleading, incomplete and out of context. For instance, the author dealing with the ‘Tai Sabaki’ page - states that the usual interpretation of Tai Sabali in the West which involving ‘evasion’ is ‘wrong’. However, if an individual can ‘read’ Chinese and/or Japanese ideograms – it is obvious that whatever this concept is - ‘evasion’ forms a central aspect of it. The author in question does not fully comprehend the entire concept of Tai Sabaki and is attempting to join the two ends of an idea together whilst omitting a (vast) theoretical centre-ground!
1) 体 (Tai) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘體’ (ti3) = ‘body’
This is related to a body (comprised of - and structured by - its internal bone structure) which is augmented in the physical world through musical rituals (involving drumming) and the adornment of jade of jewellery. The body is enhanced by the placement and alignment of its inner structure and the means (rituals) through which this body traverses the outer world. That which is ‘detrimental’ is avoided and that which is ‘nourishing’ is embraced. There is an implication in the Japanese language that ‘体’ (Tai) refers primarily to the trunk and the abdomen – and only secondarily to the limbs. It is the ‘centre’ of the body which has priority over the ‘periphery’ of the body.
2) 捌 (Saba) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘捌’ (ba1) = Disentangle
This ideogram - (in its Chinese interpretation) can mean ‘eight’ - an alternative form of ‘八’ (ba1). A ‘hand’ which expertly uses a ‘knife’ - cuts through the flesh and bones of a fish so that it is separated into ‘eight’ clean parts (probably a generic term meaning ‘many’). There is also the central idea of ‘disentanglement’ - so that no unnecessary error (or resistance) is met. This is because ‘entanglement’ means ‘hindrance’ - and the skill referred to here involves the ‘avoidance’ of such self-imposed difficulty. Evading ‘resistance’ is the correct path that leads to such a skill. The blade of the knife skilfully feels its way around (and along) the natural contours of the bones – and does NOT cut directly (at right-angles) into the bone-structure at any time. There is a ‘going with’ rather than a ‘going against’. This ideogram is the central element of this Karate-Do principle - and probably means slightly different things within the various styles which make use of it.
3) き(Ki) - Japanese Equivalent of Chinese ideogram ‘幾’ (ji3) = Skill
There is an indication of ‘quantity’, ‘measurement’ and ‘refinement’ within Japanese language dictionaries. The suggestion is that the correct manipulation of exact amounts is a great skill which has to be mastered in any successful avenue of life. This idea spans both the material and the spiritual world! An individual can carefully follow the established criterion laid down by those who have gone before – or if such an individual possesses the correct (and right) amounts of psychological insight and physical strength – then they might set out on their own path and become an inspiration for those who are to come!
When taken as an integrated whole – the martial principle of Tai Sabaki (体捌き) suggests that the physical body (its central core and not just its periphery) is skilfully used (manipulated) in a combat situation so that there is no direct conflict between the defender deploying this technique - and an attacker ignoring this technique. Tai Sabaki (体捌き) is NOT just the skilful movement of the arms and legs in ‘protection’ of the central core (the torso). Tai Sabaki (体捌き) is a ‘centre-out’ technique that requires the core and periphery to work in concord. Strength does not clash with strength. The ability to assertively ‘give-way' is the key to this technique. Indeed, when the timing is perfect - ‘giving-way’ becomes far stronger than the momentary strength associated with a dramatic (but short-lived) show of strength! Giving-way, at its highest manifestation, not only ‘absorbs’ and ‘nullifies’ ALL incoming power – but when performed correctly, generates the basis for ‘greater’ power to be produced that is not reliant upon linear (muscular) strength – but rather the ‘circular’ movement associated with the structures of the bones and joints! The bodyweight ‘drops’ into the ground through the shaft of the (aligned) bones and rebounds upwards through the centre of the bone-marrow – producing a seemingly endless supply of ‘muscle-free’ power! As this power is greater than that associated with the muscular ‘tension’ of thuggery – the defender occupies a unique time-space frequency within which the attacker cannot access (or penetrate) regardless of the willpower exhibited. The linear attacks cannot land on an object continuously moving in perfectly timed circles. Once such a level of mastery is achieved – the defender can decide the level damage perpetuated upon the attacker depending upon circumstance. Should the body of the attacker be temporarily or permanently disabled? Should the body of an attacker be only (gently) nullified as if in play? Someone who has mastered Tai Sabaki (体捌き) possesses all these choices. This is why the Wado Ryu Style of Karate-Do posits the highest ideal of a defender possessing the ability to prevent damage to both their own body AND the body of the opponent! An ideal of the highest nobility!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.