The Tenkan Step

Obviously, foot movement is something that comes up with every Judo beginner. In my very short amount of time doing Judo, the most common problem seems to be the tenkan step.

Let’s back up a second. The tenkan is a movement that is almost universal to Asian martial arts. You’ll recognize it best by example; if you’ve done Judo, the tenkan is the step you perform to enter tsukuri for a forward throw. Its that “step behind your foot” motion on uchi mata. If you’ve done Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, or any other related art that does primary kicking attacks, the tenkan is the step you take to deliver a powerful roundhouse kick. In some ryu of Karate, it is also used for back-of-fist attacks.

So, to the point; because of simple bio-mechanics, the efficacy of your tenkan step – that is, the strength of your base, your ability to keep balance, et cetera and so on – will directly correlate to the power translations in your attack. If your tenkan is off balance or weak, your attack will have no drive. This is why judoka do that instinctive thing where, when practicing our entries, we’re slamming our foot into the ground – we are establishing, and testing our base.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to train this movement in isolation. The best thing I can come up with right now is a backpack loaded with rocks, carried high on the back. Thoughts?

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the tenkan for reference:


On practicing with more intent

  1. Warmup
  2. Doing uchikomi as fit-ins.
  3. Doing some nagekomi of specific throws.
  4. Lengthy randori sessions.

And then you go to a tournament and do shiai.

Everybody recognizes this pattern. It builds usable skills, reliably. That’s good and fine, but how do you address the following desire?

Would you please let me practice a renraku waza on you that I am developing, with a moderate resistance level?

Note: Renraku waza is a combination technique.

This doesn’t fit uchikomi. It doesn’t fit nagekomi. It doesn’t fit randori in the modern western sense of a very mild shiai. This actually is a type of randori, but there is a term for it; the term is yaku soku geiko.

Geiko (sometimes spelled keiko) is one of the six Japanese words for practice. Geiko essentially means to “practice” or to “study” at the most basic level. Yaku suko geiko refers to a pre-arranged practice; in this context, not referring to time or place, but of what to practice. Yaku suko generally translates as “promise”, i.e. you are promising that things will happen in a certain way.

Yaku soku geiko is often referred to as as renshu. Renshu is the second definition of practice in Japanese, and it has connotations of picking out the good bits and discarding the rest. So, if you’re looking to practice a combination of an ashi-waza into a te-waza, you’re looking for a yaku soku geiko where you renshu that combination.

Past that, there is shuren. Its difficult to translate without a lot of words, but you can think of it as a highly refined, oft-repeated renshu. If renshu is the act of pulling pearls from clams, then shuren is the act of polishing them to a high shine. Shuren can also be an act of randori; the most literal application would probably be to just increase resistance levels.

So, what’s the point here?

If you have a minute, watch this little YouTube commentary on the efficacy of the Russian wrestling team:

Maybe you need a little bit more yaku soku geiko in your life? Maybe your randori should be a little slower and more deliberate?

There are many types of practice. Don’t confine yourself to a couple of static categories; work on the things that you will benefit you in a tangible way.