This exercise is fundamental to Aikido. In turning Tenkan, you move your body to blend with the energy of your attacker, reducing his power while maintaining your own. Practice it, and you will see ways to apply it to daily life, too.

Double click the black & white picture above to play a video of Tenkan, single click to stop. If the mini-video didn't download automatically, you can get it while you're reading. It's 153 K.
(Get the most recent Quicktime plug-in for best performance.)

How to do it.
Stand with your left foot forward. Extend your left hand, with your palm down and your wrist curled.
Leave your left hand where it is, and move your body torward it by stepping forward with your left foot.
Turn and step back with your right foot. Then slide your left foot back toward your right.
Drop your left hand to your side. Extend your right hand, palm down, wrist curled.
Step forward with your right foot, moving your body toward your right wrist. Turn around your wrist.
Complete your turn, and step back with your left foot. Slide your right foot back toward your left.
Drop your right hand to your side. Extend your left hand, palm down, wrist curled. Repeat steps 2 through 7, maybe 10 or 15 times.
  • Ignore all the stuff written next to those pictures up there. Just download the video and imitate it.
  • After you get the gist of this exercise, then read the stuff next to the pictures. If it's still confusing, go back to ignoring it.
  • The idea is to place your wrist in the air and leave it there while you turn your body around it. Feel like you have placed your hand on a shelf, and you're going to leave it on that shelf while you turn your body around it.
  • Keep your eyes forward. Don't look down at your hands. Pick a point on the wall and find that point after each turn.
  • Some people have trouble understanding which way to turn (and these problems get worse when you try to learn through words and pictures alone). So try this. Open a door and put one hand on each doorknob. Let go with one hand. Now, while you continue to hold with the remaining hand, try doing the Tenkan turn so you end up beside the door. If you turn one way, it will work. If you turn the other way, you just get tangled.
  • After each turn, extend your wrist forward as you slide the front foot back. Check out the video to see exactly what we mean.
  • Try this. Do the Tenkan exercise a few times. Then, when you extend your wrist, have a friend standing in front of you hold onto it. (If you extend your left wrist, she should grab with her right hand.) Do the Tenkan turn. You will leave your wrist in her hand and turn next to her body, so that your body becomes a mirror image of hers.
  • There are other ways to test whether you are doing Tenkan correctly. When you stand as in the first photo, have someone grasp your wrist and gently push back toward the center line of your body. Stay relaxed, keep One-Point, keep your eyes forward, and your hand will not move.
  • When your right hand is extended, have your friend put her hand on your right collar bone and gently push toward your spine. Have her place her hand on the small of your back and gently press forward. You should not move if your posture is correct and you are keeping One-Point. Have her repeat these tests after you have done the Tenkan exercise a few times.
  • Here's the metaphor. If you resist when someone attacks you (physically or verbally), that person feels more stable. (If someone shouts at you and you shout back, that person feels he's accomplished something, because now you're upset, too.) But if you turn to look at things the way your attacker sees them, the power of his attack is diminished. (Someone shouts at you, you say, "Hey, you may have a point," he no longer feels as much like fighting.)
  • This is not to say that Tenkan is a weak, submissive kind of feeling. The feeling of Tenkan is relaxed and strong throughout, yet it diminishes the power of the attack.
  • A subtle but important point: The first Tenkan turn (as described above) is different from all the rest. You start the exercise with both your left foot and left hand forward. In every other instance, you will extend the left (or right) hand before stepping with the left (or right) foot. There are good reasons for this, the most notable of which is that you would otherwise catch on altogether too quickly.
  • Tenkan, like all ki exercises is best when it's enjoyed. It may take a few practice sessions to get the hang of this one - it's usually one of the most confusing to learn. But once you've got it, do it just for the joy of it - not because you think there's something to be gained. It should feel a lot like dancing, and very little like a martial art.
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