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!
Our Hakka family gongfu style is primarily 'Northern' in structure and was brought into the New Territories of Hong Kong by Chinese people migrating from around the Henan area (during the 1600s as the Ming Dynasty collapsed) - but sometimes much further North (my partner's family migrated to the Shenzhen area from Shandong). Our 'Northern Snake Fist' (北蛇拳 - Bei Shi Quan) is comprised of sixty-four movements - which mirror the sixty-four hexagrams (卦 - Gua) of the 'Yijing' (易經) - known as the 'Change Classic' or 'Book of Change' (I Ching) in the West. This text must be studied over many years supplemented by hours of seated meditation and the perfection of 'movement' and 'stillness' when this 'Form' (形 - Xing) is deployed. This is an integrated Form requiring the mastering of the 'external' (外 - Wai) and the 'internal' (内 - Nei) - or 'Zagong' (雜功).
All traditional 'Forms' begin with the practitioner facing 'South' - the area of warmth, good farming land, trade, plenty and controllable borders within ancient China. By comparison, the 'North' can be cold, overly 'hot', suffer from a scarcity of food and peopled by barbarian hordes all seeking to attack, destroy and steal! The 'Snake Form' unfolds on overlapping 'cross' formations - starting toward the 'East', West', 'North' and then 'South' repeating the same techniques - which then adjust into a new set of techniques. The 'cross' alters into 'Southwest', 'Northeast', 'Southeast' and 'Northwest', etc. There are a number of unique movements (such as 'Gorilla Punches the Ground') - but generally speaking the 'cross' (both 'cardinal' and 'ordinal') formation holds true. This section appears to the 'Southwest' and is the first repetition of 'three' performed in this direction. The structure builds-up just as a hexagram does in the 'Yijing':
1) Foundation (first two lines of a hexagram - representing the Broad Earth) - Free Stance - Bodyweight is primarily channelled down through the back leg 'bent' at the knee and into the ground 'rooting' the structure. A 'rebounding' force emanates from the ground and up the supporting leg - spreading through the torso, upper limbs, and non-supporting front leg. This arrangement generates a 'floating' orientation in the front-leg whereby the foot feels as if it wants to 'raise' automatically - and the practitioner must exert 'intention' to keep the toes of the free-foot gently 'touching' the ground. This is in preparation for the 'groin kick' which has its origination in this 'Form'. the foot swiftly travels upwards with the toes turned 'down' and the groin of the enemy is impacted with considerable force. Due to the expert position of the back-leg and pelvic girdle - the front-leg can continuously 'pivot' around the created leverage with very little effort and in a continuous manner - generating huge amounts of force with very little effort. The groin area of the enemy may be struck repeatedly without stopping. Although all this is present and taught as an application to the 'Snake Fist' Form - within the Form itself - the front-foot never leaves the ground. Stance work is generally quite 'high' in orientation - with foot-work premised on 'light', 'short' but 'precise' heel-to-toe steps (involving bodyweight being expertly 'shift' from side to side).
2) Torso (lines three and four of a hexagram - representing Humanity). The torso 'slides' and 'shifts' from side-to-side and 'forward' into newly acquired or 'opened' space. The torso retains a forty-five degree angle as its continuously 'shifts' one side forward and then the other (sixty-one movements in this 'Form' continuously move 'forward' with only three movements taking a step backward). The torso also 'tilts' left and right from the centre-line as movements are executed - creating a moving target that is difficult to hit as it advances. Gaps are created through the intimidation of asserted movement - space which the Snake Form practitioner then occupies by 'stepping' into - thus depriving the opponent of options. This works because the 'Snake' is limited to the lethal 'eye-strike' which must be defended against at all costs! The torso 'slithers' and 'slides' into the space generated through the intimidation of the opponent! Despite moving forward the onus is upon preventing the opponent from generating or landing any powerful or significant blows! The torso shifts left and right - and forward into front-left and front-right! The expert use of footwork establishes and maintains this momentum.
3) Upper Limbs (lines five and six of the hexagram - representing the Divine Sky). In this section the reverse hand is deflecting the opponent's attacking limb down and to the side of the torso. This involves an open-hand with slightly spread finger aligned with an empowered fore-arm and 'pointed' elbow. The alignment and rebounding bodyweight renders this arm as strong and as heavy as a block of concrete and yet as light and manoeuvrable as silk blowing in the wind! The footwork and torso can 'move' around this 'blocking' arm so that direct conflict is avoided and the opponent's natural strength is bypassed by a superior (and deadly) technique. Simultaneously, the lead-hand strikes with the middle (longest) finger to one of the enemy's eyes. The severity of this attack can be varied from 'gouging' to a light 'tap' and every level of vision-disruption inbetween. The Four-fingers can be separated to create a 'double' strike which hits both the enemy's eyes simultaneously with one-hand. The fingers then collapse palm 'inward' (toward the chest) so that a powerful 'back-hand' strike is delivered to the eye and nose area of the opponent. This is followed by the hand suddenly 'closing' and delivering a power short-range punch to to side of the nose or eye structures of the opponent. During training, these blows must be practiced both 'slowly' and very 'fast'!
Apparent Hands - Hidden Feet (明手暗腿 - Ming Shou An Tui): Practical Northern Longfist (長拳 - Chang Quan) Leg Self-Defence Techniques! (29.8.2022)
Open-Hands Are the Advanced-Guard,
手为先锋 (Shou wei xianfeng)
Feet Are in Command;
脚为帅 (Jiao wei shuai)
Closed-Fists Strike in Six Directions,
拳打六路 (Quan da liulu)
Feet Strike in All Eight-Directions!
脚踢八方 (Jiao tī bafang)
Chinese Language Sources:
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.