Green Belt Movement Skills

Within the Green Belt curriculum you are likely to find that movements become more efficient, precise, abstract, and perhaps more insightful. Some movement skills may seem impractical or of doubtful use, but you will eventually find use for them all, so we urge you to keep an open mind.

Move without Moving

At first this will seem like a complete contradiction of terms. How can one possibly move without moving. It sounds like complete nonsense.

But this concept involves dynamic situations in which your opponent is moving. Since your opponent is moving, you can position yourself, relative to your opponent, without moving from your current position. This means that in some situations the basic stepping patterns you learned as a White Belt are not necessary or even beneficial.

Now to be clear, employing this concept does not mean that you do not move at all. It may be important to block or somehow manipulate your opponent. It may also be beneficial to preposition yourself or your structure in some way to better facilitate the use of this concept. Let’s explore a couple of examples to make this more germane.

Let’s for the moment assume you are standing in a general fighting stance with your right leg back and your left leg forward. Your opponent is directly in front of you and obviously considering an attack of some sort. As a distraction, raise both hands upward and suggest you do not want to be involved in any altercation. Ideally your prospective opponent will focus on your hand movements. Concurrent with this hand motion discretely move the ball of your left foot toward angle five by rotating on the heel of this foot. Do this in a manner that does not impart any movement into your hips, torso, shoulders, or arms. What you have done is move toward angle three without moving your current position. Huhhh?  Let me explain.

In your original position your left knee was likely pointed generally in the direction of angle seven (possibly angle one). After you rotated on the heel of your left foot your left knee now points toward angle five. You will notice this points to the outside of your potential opponent’s current location.  You are, in effect, now located to the side of your opponent. Let’s progress a bit further. Now assume the assailant comes forward with an attack. Press the ball of your left foot into the floor and rotate the heel of this foot toward angle three as you move your opposite foot back and out of the line of attack. This latter step is not always necessary if you can intercede and manipulate the opponent as they strike. At other times it will be a prudent course of action.

You will find that this simple movement either places you on the opponent’s face side and directly in line with his or her torso, or on the ear side directly adjacent to the opponent’s head. In the first case you have “moved” to the opponent’s face side. In the second case you have “moved” so that you are now effectively beside or perhaps even behind your opponent. You will likely be behind your opponent if you were able to rotate his or her center as they attacked.

This is really a case of prepositioning but it demonstrates this general concept well. Your foot and knee were prepositioned to move out of the way of the attack before it was initiated. It appears you have moved significantly, but in reality you only moved slightly. But relative to your opponent’s position you have moved substantially.

Let’s explore another related example. Assume the same initial starting positions for yourself and the opponent. Now employ a similar distraction, but this time use it to mask a slight rotation of your hips so that your right hip projects slightly forward. This will put a small additional load on your right leg while very slightly reducing the load on your left leg. Do not allow the rotation of your hips, which should be subtle, to be conveyed to your torso or shoulders, which should all remain unchanged relative to your opponent. You have effectively changed where your center is pointing, but you have not made this change visible to your opponent.

As the opponent attacks you can step L5 and manipulate or strike the opponent coming from what will now be your angle seven. You will not be where your opponent thought you would be located. You have “moved” without the opponent sensing how this was accomplished. But even this movement is not strictly necessary. Since your center was previously rotated you are really centered toward angle five. As the opponent attacks you can rotate your center back in the direction of angle one or angle seven to manipulate or strike your opponent. In this case you have moved relative to your opponent with really moving at all.

This concept essentially boils down to prepositioning your center in some way that is not obvious to your opponent. This might be done by moving a hip, a knee, or a foot. Alternately, it could be done by not moving any of those body parts, but rather moving the torso or shoulders in a way that suggest the body is aligned somewhere it is not.

Efficiency of Movement

As we discussed earlier it is easy to waste a tremendous amount of energy when in a conflict or even when sparring or performing an activity such as a Kata. After only a few seconds of exertion your body begins to rely on tertiary energy sources which are less efficient. It is beneficial when doing any form of longer-term activity that you be able to move as efficiently as possible.

There are several ways to consider how to be more efficient. The first is in the efficiency of your intended movements. If you plan to do a series of blocks, strikes, and kicks then you will want to focus on how to make these movements as brisk, effective, and minimally energetic. That does not mean you should make the movements weakly, but rather that you should not employ unnecessary force and energy to accomplish your goals. Usually martial artists overexert themselves and utilize much more power and energy than needed. As a candidate for Green Belt you will want to experiment with how much power, speed, and intensity is actually needed to accomplish most of the tasks you commonly perform. With experimentation you should find that much less effort and intensity is required than what you have been utilizing. You will also likely find that your speed of movement improves significantly because you are not wasting time and energy performing with unnecessary effort. Experiment with this concept extensively to ensure you do not waste energy, perform slower than you might otherwise, and generate excessive heat. You may find, as a result of this experimentation that your endurance also increases.

Another area where some analysis and thought can improve your efficiency of movement is in the elimination of unnecessary exertions. For example, when doing a Kata you may notice that your back, neck, or shoulder muscles have become fatigued. These muscles can be useful in some Kata , but largely they are merely used to provide support and structure. If your movements do not specifically rely on these muscles then the likely reason these muscles have grown tired is that you have held them in tension while performing the Kata. In essence you have wasted energy keeping some muscles tense when that tension did little or nothing to benefit your activities. In fact that tension merely encumbered you and wasted energy.

This wasted form of energy is extremely common. You want to pay attention to any extra and unnecessary energy that you are using. This only serves to consume your short term energies, produces extra heat, increases your need for oxygen, and makes you tired much faster. Areas where you are likely to detect excessive muscle tensions include the face (unnecessary facial expressions), neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, and even excessive breathing. If you use a muscle for any purpose it represents an energy drain and a heat gain. Keeping this excessive muscle usage to a minimum will help you remain fresh, alert, and responsive to any actions from an opponent.

Another area where you may benefit from considering efficiency of movement is thinking about how to use any arm, leg, or body position to your immediate advantage. That sounds abstract so let me provide some concrete examples. If you punch and your opponent weaves to avoid the strike then your most likely reaction is to retract your hand to guard position so you can prepare to strike again. This is not particularly efficient. You strike, exerting energy, then retract, exerting more energy – all while not accomplishing anything.

But even if you had made contact with the strike you are likely to still be moving inefficiently. If you strike and return your hands to a guard position then there is one wasted movement. That return could be used to manipulate, strike, destabilize, or otherwise have some effect on your opponent. Consider how you might use the return of any previous motion to be a part of your next intended manipulation of your opponent.

Excessive Movement

One hallmark of an advanced student is how they move, or more accurately, how little they move. A key area of study in this belt is efficiency of movement. It is likely you are still moving much more than is required for any given task. We will want to correct this before moving on to more complex material.

Students exhibit excessive movement in numerous ways. These include moving along large circular paths, using exaggerated or unnecessary movements, moving outside the center triangle, and initiating unnecessary force. Let’s explore each of these in turn.

Much of what we do in Tensoku Ryu involves moving along circular paths. Circles are often beneficial, but large circles are often detrimental. Transitioning along a large circular path takes substantially more energy and time than moving along a much smaller and more contained circular path.

A circle with a twelve inch diameter has a circumference of over thirty-seven and a half inches. A circle with a six inch diameter has a circumference of slightly under nineteen inches. It will clearly take less time, if moving at a consistent speed, to move around the smaller circle. This basic mathematical law should not be lost on any martial artist. Moving in small tight circles, when it is possible, is much faster and more energy efficient than moving in larger circles. As an added benefit, you will typically move at a faster angular velocity as well, increasing the effectiveness of your movement. Small circles are generally good circles.

You should study every movement you make to see how any circular component of the movement can be made smaller and tighter. This will speed up your movements, reduce your energy expenditures, and reduce the opportunities your opponent might have for disrupting your movements. These are clearly advantages you will not want to forgo.

If you have not thought about this much before then you will likely be using circles that are four or five times larger than necessary. If you have considered it in the past, then you may only be using circles that are two or three times larger than necessary. Work with your circular movements until you can perform them with the smallest practical diameter necessary to reliably accomplish their task. This should then become your new norm.

Another area of excessive movement involves movements that are much larger than needed. If you are throwing someone and put that little bit of extra zing in your movement then you are guilty of using excessive movement. Blocking is often a source of excessive movement in that you only need to move far enough to make the opponent’s strike miss. Any blocking motion beyond that is excessive and potentially detrimental.

Stepping often involves extra movement as well. It is often much faster and requires less movement if you simply rotate on the ball or heel of a foot (or both feet) rather than taking a step. This method of movement is also safer in close quarter conflicts. Experiment to see how rotating a foot can often be used instead of stepping. Also pay attention to the effects of rotating on one leg versus the other. While rotating on your left foot may appear to give you the same movement as rotating to the same angle using your right foot, you will find there are substantial differences in how the movements play out. Spend some time examining these differences.

Avoid Over Movement

One of the hallmarks of someone who has achieved the rank of Green Belt is that they move much more quickly and have more efficient movements that they did as a lower ranking practitioner. This belt focuses a great deal on improving both speed and effectiveness of movement.

A key component to faster and more efficient movement is to move less. There are several different ways to address these improvements. We will cover the most significant improvements.

As previously discussed, the first improvement involves circular motions. Most students who first obtain the Blue Belt ranking still have fairly large circular movements. Examples of relevant circular movements include the following (there are a great many others):

  • Using the same hand, strike with a jab and a Tettsui Uchi in rapid succession.
  • Perform a downward directed block of an incoming punch, followed by an Uraken Uchi to the face.
  • Use the left hand to grab your opponent by the neck, pulling his or her head forward and down. Now strike downward to the opponent’s back with a Tate Tettsui Uchi.
  • Perform a simple Chudan Uke or Ura Chudan Uke

Each of these movements is commonly done with excessive circular motion. As a Blue Belt you will want to eliminate as much of this, and other, excess movement as possible.

To reiterate some of our earlier discussion, when moving in a circle your speed of movement is dictated by angular velocity. At some constant rate of movement, it takes longer to traverse the circumference of a larger circle than a smaller one. When employing circular movements you will naturally be much faster, and more in control, if you employ small tight circles rather than larger and more easily noticed circular motions.

Linear movements are also commonly excessive in new Blue Belt students. Any strike outside or beyond your center triangle takes longer to develop, is not as powerful, is slower, and subjects you to potential manipulation attempts. A combination of well-centered strikes that make effective use of the disproportionality concept will help you achieve increased speed and power in your linear movements.

When throwing something like a simple jab you will want to pay attention to Ma Ai. If your front hand begins its travel from a position very near your face, it will take longer to reach your target than if your hand begins its journey from near the front of your center triangle. Placing your hands in a location where they will require minimal movement to achieve their desired effect is a good way to improve speed.

Moving your hands relative to your torso (or center) is usually slower and less powerful than keeping your hands in a fixed location and rotating your center instead. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that your hands will likely be closer to your body as your center rotates, meaning they will track along the path of a smaller circle than when the hands move without center rotation.

No single option is the path to faster movement. It takes consideration of all of these various strategies to increase overall speed. When you are practicing pay particular attention to the time it takes for a movement to be completed. Now analyze why it takes that long. Is there excess movement? Are circular components of the movement too large? Could your hands have been better positioned so that unnecessary movements could be avoided? Was your center properly positioned to make the movement as efficient as possible? All of these questions should be examined when attempting to analyze any movement. If you look carefully you will seldom not find some form of improvement you can incorporate in your growing set of skills.

Natural Movement

When I watch students move during drills and exercises I am always struck by the level of contortion they put themselves through. A student simply moving to the ear side of the Uke will often adopt an awkward and energy consuming stance or posture. This posture, in addition to how tiring it will make the student in a short period of time also almost always roots the student, making it hard for him or her to quickly transition to another location or structural alignment should the need arise (and surprise, the need always arises).

Movements are much more efficient and better balanced if you can do them in a more natural manner. By that I mean if you move to the ear side of the opponent, simply walk over there. There is little need to tense your muscles, twist your torso, grit your teeth, and inhale deeply. Relax, it’s only a fight.

All joking aside, you will find that you move much faster, with better precision of movement, and expend far less energy if you can stress moving in a natural and relaxed manner whenever possible. It is always possible? No. But it very often is something that can be readily done. This is the method of movement you should strive to use by default. If other movements are required you will be able to do them quite readily. After all, you’ve had a lot of practice moving that way. Now adopt a more casual movement model.

You might think of moving this way from two different perspectives. The first is simple walking. This is a very efficient form of movement. Nothing is tense and you can readily perform the next step in your movement without feeling rooted in any way. Those parts of your body not involved in the walking process are generally relaxed, requiring little energy. You can talk when you move. This is a key feature. If you move during training but feel you could not possible talk during your movement then you are perhaps putting excess stress and energy into your movements. We’re not suggesting that you talk when you move, but if you find you could not possibly talk if you wanted to, then you have perhaps incorporated too much stress in your movement.

Another model to consider is couples dancing. When two people dance they are able to move about each other in a relaxed and seamless manner. Again this is a very energy efficient movement and people are able to readily engage in conversation while dancing. Because of the natural movements being utilized the couple can readily glide into the next movement when the current movement has been completed. One movement leads natural to the next in a continuously flowing stream of transitions. Energy is not wasted and contorted structural alignments are avoided. As a martial artist this should be your objective.

This same concept applies to blocks, strikes, kicks, and every other aspect of the martial arts. Seek always to perform movements in the most natural and elegant manner. You will find your technique improves, your movements will be more effective and you will become far less tired. Relax. Have fun. It’s only the martial arts.

Pre-engagement Positioning

Suppose for a moment that you are at a party and someone becomes angry at you. Your assessment of the individual is that he or she may become violent. Once you reach that conclusion you must prepare for a possible confrontation. This does not involve taking off your jacket and jamming a mouth guard in your face. It requires strategic thinking.

The wisest choice is to simply leave. That is always the most prudent option. But sometimes this is not possible. But it should not be overlooked as an option.

I bring this up because of a situation that was related to me by a woman who attended a self-defense seminar. She indicated that she had invited a male acquaintance to her home but that things quickly got out of hand. She insisted the man leave, but he would not. Eventually things did not turn out well for her. At the seminar she inquired about what she might have done to thwart the man’s advances and get him to leave. I suggested that she should have simply left. When she replied that it was her house and he should have left, I asked if staying worked out well for her in the end.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not think the woman is at fault for what happened to her. Clearly it was not her fault. My only point is that when things start to go bad in a situation you would be wise to consider every option available to you. If leaving is an option, then you should seriously consider it, even if you are in your own house. Naturally in the midst of a tense situation it is difficult to think of every option, but leaving should readily come to mind.

If you find you are unable to leave then here are a few things you might consider. Firstly, you should not remain seated. You will want to be able to quickly move if necessary. Secondly, it will be beneficial to move toward an exit, especially if the exit is on the opposite side of the room from your adversary. Thirdly, try to position yourself so that the other person must negotiate numerous obstacles (tables, chairs, people, support columns, etc.) in order to move closer to you. This will give you time to consider any last minute options and to more clearly identify the other person’s intent.

Find a location from which you can consistently observe the other person and his or her movements. Watch the person via peripheral vision and attempt to track his or her every movement. You might glance in the person’s direction occasionally, but not more often than you are glancing at others in the room. If the person moves to a new location that makes your observation difficult, then you should find a way to move to a new location to afford you better visibility.

You should pay close attention if the person goes into another room or visits the restroom. They might be seeking a weapon or otherwise preparing for a confrontation. A motivated person may go out a window and then reenter the building behind you. In this situation you will want to monitor movement near all doorways. Do not assume the danger has passed simply because the person is no longer in your line of sight.

If you are wearing shoes or clothing that will impede your movement now would be the time to discretely discard them. Look around for potential weapons, but do not pick them up. You’ll want access to a weapon if the other person presents a weapon of his or her own, but you do not want to be seen brandishing a weapon first.

Even if you are not dealing with an angry or irrational person there are benefits to prepositioning yourself to address a potential conflict. Thinking ahead can help prevent serious injury.

Assume for a moment that you have just reached your car in a parking lot when someone nearby catches your attention. You realize this person is moving intentionally in your direction. If the person approaches from the front of your car then you will want to ensure your car door is closed. If the person approaches from the rear of your car then it would be best if your car door is open and you are positioned such that the car door is between you and the other person. In this place the car door functions as a barrier to the other person. If you and the other person were positioned such that the door closes in your direction then the door is a potential weapon for the approaching person. This explains why you would want the door closed in that situation.

You would also be wise to consciously note that you will drop any bags or packages you are carrying immediately if the person becomes aggressive. Holding on to packages will make you preoccupied with retaining them and thereby make it difficult for you to put up a good defense. Discard any packages immediately – perhaps throwing them at the assailant.

The primary point here is that if you are suspicious of another person’s intentions then you should begin to move into a location and posture from which you can thwart any potential attack. You need to be considering your options from the first second and for many minutes (or even hours) after the danger appears to have abated.


In the section on Move without Moving we discussed some ways in which you might change your structural alignment or orientation before your opponent attacks. This is a critical skill that can be utilized to confuse, disorient, or misguide your opponent.

Let’s again explore this concept with a simple example. Assume you have someone in front of you who is considering attacking you. You may not be certain of their intentions, but you are suspicious. Before the opponent can attack, shift your hips slightly to your left while learning your head and shoulders slightly to your right. This moves the major target areas (your head and upper torso) to your right. Should the person attack they will likely attack those targets. If you make these adjustments subtly the other person is unlikely to notice that you are not positioned where these targets are located.

Now if the person attacks you simply pull your head and torso erect over your hips. The opponent’s strike will miss to your right (or in front of you if you have properly rotated your center). You will likely find you are positioned at 90° to the opponent without really having done anything at all.

Another possibility is to raise both hands up in front of you. Your elbows might be facing down with you open hands positioned with palms facing upward. This allows you to slowly back away while you plead with the other person to please allow you to leave in peace. You might explain that you are sorry if you offended him or her, or that you are an absolute and complete idiot. You may say whatever seems like it might work to allow you to leave without an ensuing conflict.

Now your opponent has a few options. They can let you leave, perhaps with a few closing insults. You have won. Everybody went home without an injury or arrest record.

Of course, the opponent may decide you are sniveling coward and will attack you anyway. This is not an unlikely outcome, particularly if it was clear they intended to attack anyway. But you are now in a position to readily block, strike, and disrupt the opponent as they initiate the attack. Your seemingly apologetic posture was in actuality an attack posture. Those outstretched hands, pointed generally in the direction of the opponent’s face, were not there by accident.

Another simple prepositioning strategy is to simply press the big toe and ball of one foot firmly into the floor. If the other person attacks you can simply lift the opposite foot and press a little more into the floor with the rooted foot to generate a spring action that will propel you away from your rooted foot. This may dictate the direction in which you will move, but we generally do not care about that much. You’ll deal with what you find in your new location when you get there.

There are innumerable ways in which you can position your head, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, knees, legs and feet so that you appear to be in one location when you are in reality soon to be somewhere else. You will find it beneficial to practice some of these prepositioning skills with your Uke. Try to make your prepositioning actions discrete and subtle so that you do not telegraph your intent to a potential opponent.


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