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There are four basic types of ashi-sabaki, or footwork, in the Japanese sport of Kendo. These are, in order of increasing difficulty, ayumi-ashi, okuri-ashi, hiraki-ashi, and tsugi-ashi. Because all of a person's movements are ultimately based on the point where they push against the floor, it is essential that the connection between the Kendo practitioner and the earth be robust, and capable of transmitting force at any moment. Therefore, all of these forms of footwork are performed with suri-ashi: sliding steps in which the feet never leave the floor. This stabilizes the lower body and allows the upper body to move freely, without worry of becoming overbalanced. Mastery of this kind of footwork is essential to proper practice of Kendo.
If okuri-ashi, hiraki-ashi, or tsugi-ashi is performed as part of a strike, it must be performed with fumi-komi-ashi, or a low stomp. This technique is addressed at the end of this write-up.

Ayumi-ashi

"Walking footwork." You probably know how to do this already. Starting from chuudan-no-kamae (as all of these manoeuvres do), the right foot slides forward a reasonable distance, just ahead of the body. The left foot then slides forward, past the right foot and just ahead of the body. The right foot then slides forward to its original position relative to the body and the left foot. This completes one full step. Through all of this, the knees remain straight, but not locked; the back remains straight and vertical, but not stiff; and the toes and balls of the feet remain on the ground. The heels lift slightly from the ground, especially the one that is moving. The motion is almost identical to sliding across a waxed floor in socks. The net effect is that of the practitioner gliding smoothly over the ground, with little vertical motion. Because the feet cross, this footwork sacrifices some stability in exchange for speed and freedom of movement. It is used when entering and exiting the ring before a match has begun, and during a match when sufficiently far away from one's opponent that contact with them is unlikely within the next few seconds. Ayumi-ashi can be used to move backwards by reversing "right" and "left," "forwards" and "backwards," "in front" and "behind," et cetera, within this description.

Okuri-ashi

"Pushing-forward footwork." This is the basic and most generally used footwork in Kendo. Starting from the standard foot position, the left foot bears the majority of the body's weight, and the left calf muscle is stretched slightly. The left foot pushes backwards against the ground, moving the right foot forwards *along with the body*. At this point the right foot does not reach forwards relative to the body any more than it did while standing in chuudan-no-kamae - rather, the left foot trails. All the muscular work is performed by the left leg, particularly the calf. As soon as the right foot has stopped moving and temporarily supports the body's weight, the left foot snaps forwards to its original position relative to the body, and once again bears most of the weight. One step is now complete, and the left leg should be 'primed' to begin another. At no point does either foot leave the ground, nor does the left foot ever cross in front of the right. The left toes remain at all times behind the right heel. This provides a constantly stable base from which the Kendo practitioner can execute waza, even while moving. The motion at first feels somewhat like a gallop, but with practice should settle down into a gliding motion almost as smooth as ayumi-ashi. This footwork affords stability, ease of movement, and, with practice, a reasonable speed. It is used at almost all times during a match. Okuri-ashi can be used to move backwards by reversing "right" and "left," "forwards" and "backwards," "in front" and "behind," et cetera, within this description.

Hiraki-ashi

Diagonal footwork. This is a natural extension of okuri-ashi into full two-dimensional movement. It encompasses moving in any direction that is not strictly either forward or backward, while simultaneously rotating the practitioner to face his opponent from the new angle. Thus, when moving to the right with hiraki-ashi, the practitioner rotates slightly to the left in order to continue to face his opponent, and vice-versa. There are six directions in which one may move with hiraki-ashi, as labelled in the ASCII art below:

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To move to positions 2, 4, and 6, the right foot leads as the left foot pushes off, just as in okuri-ashi. In moving to position 6, the right foot temporarily moves behind the left foot, creating a moment of lessened stability which must be accounted for. To move to position 1, the left foot leads, temporarily crossing in front of the right foot and leaving the practitioner in a reversed stance similar to that adopted during hidari-joudan-no-kamae. To move to position 3, the left foot leads, but at all times the right-foot-forwards stance is maintained. To move to position 5 the left foot leads, but can be moved a further or lesser distance back to lead to a normal stance or a reversed stance. The movement during hiraki-ashi is that of a gliding sidestep. This footwork can be rather unsteady, but can also be of great use to out-manoeuvre an opponent. It is used during a match primarily to evade a blow and deliver a counterstroke, or to deliver a crossover do strike. Typically no more than one or two hiraki steps are taken consecutively during a match, although in some cases extensive fencing for position may lead to a long series of evasions and counter-evasions before a (typically decisive) point is struck.

Tsugi-ashi

"Following footwork." This is a two-part step based on okuri-ashi. It begins from the standard foot position. First, the left foot is brought slightly forward, so that its toes are on a line with the right foot's heel. Tension is built up in the left calf, and by the left foot pushing against the ground, the right foot and the entire body are immediately thrust forward as far as possible. The left foot must then immediately snap back into position to bear the weight of the body and complete the step. If the left foot is returned to its standard position the movement is over; however, if the left foot is brought slightly further forward, it can immediately prime the calf to begin another lunging tsugi-ashi step. The motion is similar to a lunging and ambitious okuri-ashi. It allows the practitioner to cross a large distance very quickly and with little warning, but it requires a certain amount of commitment which temporarily reduces one's agility. During a match, this footwork is used primarily to strike the opponent from a long distance and catch them off-guard. It can only be used to move forwards. Tsugi-ashi lends itself particularly well to being performed with Fumi-komi-ashi.

Fumi-komi-ashi

"Stomping footwork." This can be performed as part of any of the last three types of footwork. It is an essential component to any scoring strike. During okuri-ashi, hiraki-ashi, or tsugi-ashi, the leading foot (the one which is closest to the opponent) raises slightly off the floor in the course of the step. Because each of these steps involves propelling the body and leading foot together with the trailing foot, the practitioner launches all his weight forwards, and, in the case of tsugi-ashi, leaves the ground entirely for just an instant. No force or weight is specifically directed downward in order to perform the fumi-komi - rather, the practitioner simply lands flat on the sole of the leading foot as he brings up the trailing foot to end the step and continue moving with one of the four ordinary types of footwork. The motion involved is slightly more than that of a normal step: the fumi-komi adds a short-range application of energy and produces a startling noise and noticable breeze. Fumi-komi-ashi, like the other four kinds of footwork, is absolutely essential to performing proper Kendo, and is practiced throughout the life of every kendoka.

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