Unsoku Meanings

Note: This article was originally written for the Finnish Taido Kamae Magazine. It is republished here in for the benefit of English-speaking Taidoka. There are a few Japanese characters in this article which may look like gibberish on your computer.

The Japanese have a big advantage over most of us when it comes to learning Taido: specifically, they understand Japanese.

Growing up, I had always assumed that the words we used in Taido had meanings, but nobody ever taught them to me. When we studied a little bit of vocabulary, the words were always explained and memorized in a Taido context with no functional connections made to other uses. I suspect many of you had similar experiences.

I used to wonder why a punch was sometimes called tsuki and other times zuki. Even after I began to study some Japanese, it took me a while to figure out that zen (as in zenten) and mae (as in maegeri) were not just different ways to say “front,” but the same word. I’m pretty lazy about studying Japanese, but even my limited linguistic skills have made a big impact on my understanding of Taido.

On one of my solo trips to Japan as a university student, Akiyama Sensei taught me the meanings of the unsoku step names (with the aid of an electronic dictionary and a bottle of single malt whiskey). That night completely changed the way I thought of unsoku. It also opened my eyes to the fact that there is a lot more to Taido than just performing the movements skillfully. We have to move mindfully if we are to have seigyo and control our opponents.

What follows are translations and explanations of the Japanese names for the eight unsoku movements. Though there is no whiskey involved (unless you happen to be drinking as you read this – it might help…), the following is essentially what Akiyama Sensei told me that night several years ago.

  • So (送)Okuru means “to send.” This character is also used in the word for farewell and connotes strong wind and direct movement. In unsoku, the idea is to prevent the opponent from entering your spatial territory – to push him out or send him away.
  • In (引)Hiku means “to pull.” This character can also connote bringing. The object of insoku is not necessarily to withdraw from the opponent, but rather to pull him towards you. Most Taidoka are more comfortable with aggressive tactics than they are with the idea of leading the opponent into a trap by appearing passive. As such, insoku is probably the least-used step. It may be advantageous to spend some time thinking of ways to “pull” as well as push.
  • Ka (加)Kuwaeru means “to add.” This character connotes speeding up or otherwise increasing. In unsoku, a change of angle is being added to the push/pull found in sosoku and insoku. Kasoku can be used as a transition from planning to action, in which case it marks an increase in speed and intensity.
  • Gen (減)Heru means “to reduce or empty.” This character is used when speaking of hunger or loss of money. Where ka is adding, gen is subtracting. In unsoku, the idea is to vacate a space that is not safe. We often think of gensoku as a retreating step, but a more accurate image may be that of simply removing oneself.
  • Ko (交)Majiwaru means “to cross or pass by.” This character is also used in the words for intersections and switching places. In unsoku, the idea is to brush past your opponent’s attack. At the same time, you take his dominance by angling toward his back. In this way, you end up switching attack and defense roles.
  • Ten (点) – This is the only unsoku step whose name is never a verb. Ten means “point.” It could be a physical point in space, a number of points awarded for a score, or a point marked on paper. In unsoku, the point is the position to which we adjust. Where kosoku adjusts the angle about the rear leg, tensoku adjusts about the front foot and can be useful when must “enter” an attack that is to fast to avoid completely.
  • Tsui (追)Ou means “to chase,” though not necessarily to catch. Contrary to what many people assume, tsuisoku‘s punch isn’t intended so much to strike the opponent, but rather to force him to move so you can set up an attack.
  • Tai (退)Shirizoku means “to draw back or retreat,” and also connotes returning or becoming “not there.” In unsoku, this could mean returning from an attack (as in gentai) or backing off from a position that is no longer safe or strategic.

Most of us have heard it said that “Taido begins and ends with unsoku.” If this is so, then a thorough understanding of unsoku is vital to our understanding of Taido. Since Japanese is a symbolic language, we can’t take for granted that sosoku is simply a name for a particular movement. The name of any technique is a clue to its application.

Taido is about combining naiko and gaiko, mi and karada, thought and action. So we should consider the meanings of the movements along with their uses when we practice. This is the origin of the tradition of saying “so” when we do sosoku and “in” when we do insoku – to give meaning to the physical practice. In the West, it’s usually treated as a mnemonic technique, but the Japanese get more out of it. That’s their advantage. Now it’s yours too.

Series NavigationTechnical Notes on the Unsoku StepsUnsoku Practice Routines

17 thoughts on “Unsoku Meanings”

  1. Hello!

    I read the above explainations of the eight unsoku moves, for example:

    So (送) – Okuru means “to send.”…

    What is the word that precedes “means” in every explaination? In this case Okuru. The movement is called “so” but the word that is explained is “okuru”. Why is that? My Japanese is not so good and that´s probobly why I don´t get it :)



    1. That is the verbal form of each character – how it would be pronounced as a standalone word (except for “ten” which only has one pronunciation and is never a verb).

      For example, when Japanese people see the kanji for “so” by itself, they will usually think of the word “okuru,” which means to send. For the character to have other meanings, it will need to be combined with other kanji in a compound word.

  2. Thanks alot!

    By the way, I watched your stretching video and noticed that you seemed to know what you were talking about :) My biggest issue when it comes to stretching is that I give up pretty fast because I doubt my stretching method. My stiffest part is also the hamstrings; it´s so bad that I can´t sit on the floor with my legs stretched out in front of me without falling backwards :-S I´m ready to give it a serious shot but I´m not really sure what the best stretching exercises for that purpose are. I´m guessing that I need to work on those hamstrings and the gluteus maximus but perhaps also som smaller muscles? Any recommended exercises??

    One last thing. When I stretch my hamstrings it feels more around my knee than in the actual hamstring. Does it sound familiar? Will it become better as I get limber?


    1. The number one factor to successfully changing what your body can do is consistent training. This also goes for stretching, and doubly so if you happen to be over 25 years old.

      The point is that you can give up. You won”t see dramatic results unless you are stretching at least every other day. Even then, it may be difficult to see exactly how much progress you’re making. Usually, you just notice that it doesn’t hurt anymore when you move.

      You probably have tight hamstrings from sitting down a lot. In the video, I do some stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles in the hips. Those will give you the most benefit, but don’t neglect to stretch the entire leg. The entire point to the order of exercises in that routine is that all of the muscles are connected, and you’ll get much better results by taking advantage of that (loosening up the muscles around the hamstrings) than you will by fighting it (trying to just stretch the hamstrings).

      The reason you feel tension at your knee is that it’s where the hamstring terminates. The muscle is thinnest and weakest there. Don’t force a stretch. Instead, teach your muscles to gradually relax.

  3. Thanks again!

    I have taken the tour on the website now I read your story. I have never come across anyone with such a love for taido, it´s fantastic to see! I had the same passion the first six months, I never missed a trainging and I couldn´t wait for the next one to come, but then it started to fade away unfortunately. It´s still my number one passion though.

    I´ll continue to visit this website regularly.

    Patrik, Swedish taidoka, 3 kyu

  4. What is really the translation of unsoku happo more precise? One is educated that it simply means “the eight basic moves”.

  5. Unsoku is 運足. The first character refers to moving or working, and second means “foot.” Literally, footwork, or moving the feet.

    Happo is 八法. These characters mean 8 and law or method.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, 八法 could have a special translation in mathematics meaning numbers that have the same remainder when divided by 8. Interesting to think about, though I doubt Shukumine was thinking of 129/11 (which I believe is the lowest modulo 8 number) when he designed unsoku.

    1. Thanks Joni.

      If you wouldn’t mind dong me a favor, maybe forward this link to some instructors you think can benefit from the info.

  6. I’ve promoted this blog to few people that I know loves Taido as much as I do. Here are so much information packed in one place that it would just stupid not to read it. And I like the way You write :)

  7. Once again thanks for an insightful article!

    I see unsoku in a whole new way now. But I notice myself again thinking beyond the information and tips provided. So: I recently stumbled into unshin happo. Its movements are named similarly, eg. so-shin, in-shin, ka-shin and so on. Do those movements serve same functions than the unsoku movements?

    Secondly, the rules of jissen don’t allow you to throw straight punches without a spinning movement before it. Therefore a tsuisoku , for example, would be a risky thing to da as itself in order to manipulate your opponents movement. Same goes for sosoku and kosoku. That made me think: Could one create other kind of movement to fulfill the same function? A different way to force the opponent to move? If yes, would that movement be still called “tsuisoku”? Taido is supposed to be adaptable, therefore it should be possible, or…?

  8. @VP_Turpeinen I think Unshin Happo is kind of “made up” – not really something most people practice for real. That said, if you can apply the idea of SO to zenten and use it that way, calling it soshin would be accurate. For some of the others, it’s a bit of a stretch, and you can see that the name is applied simply to fit the pattern rather than to serve a real purpose.

    I’m going to nit pic a bit about your statement:

    “the rules of jissen don’t allow you to throw straight punches without a spinning movement before it”

    Technically, that’s not true. What the rules of jissen don’t allow is receiving a score for those punches. You’re welcome to punch, but you won’t get points. If you step forward and quickly strike the opponent in the chest with the punch in kasoku, you’ve taken the advantage. Quickly continue the step and strike with sentaizuki. The first punch is seigyo, the second one is kimegi.

    It’s very important to understand that not every action will result in a point. That doesn’t make the action useless.

    Of course, you can create alternate unsoku – people do it all the time. Common examples are the “oyo no kasoku” and “oyo no gensoku” that appear in kobo. Oyo mean application, so these are applied unsoku patterns that achieve the purpose without adhering strictly to the form.

  9. @AndyFossett

    Ah, so that’s how the rules go. Corrected I stand. I’m still a bit out in the woods with some terms because I have less than year of training under my belt (pun intended): What does “Seigyo” stand for? I know kimegi, though, we talked about that in our latest taido camp.

    I actually came up with an tsuisoku-like application for zenten one Friday a few weeks ago while mowing the lawn (it was about two in the afternoon). I’m not sure yet whether it will work or not, my jumping kicks are not yet good enough to try this thing out…

    P.S. My original comment had “As far as I have understood” written in it after the jissen sentence. Unfortunately it got lost while messing with the chat system and I had to write the whole thing again. Ugh.

  10. @VP_Turpeinen

    Seigyo is what makes martial arts “martial” – the strategic, control aspect where you impose your will on the opponent.

    Taido techniques are applied by combining unsoku, sotai, seigyo, kimegi, and gentai. You should ask your teacher to explain them because it’s important. I’ve also discussed all of them on Taido/Blog.

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