Ashi Sabaki — 7 Karate Footwork Techniques Explained (+videos)

5 benefits of ashi sabaki

Whether You're Looking For The Japanese Names For The Different Ashi Sabaki Or Hints To Move More Smoothly...

There comes a time that you'll look into the different ways of "stepping" aka ASHI SABAKI.

Ashi Sabaki means foot movement and is used to...

✅ Cover distance to either get closer to the opponent or move away.
✅ Avoid an attack by body movement rather than rely on blocking.
✅ Position yourself to take a more advantageous angle.
✅ Add momentum so you can create a higher power output (punch harder).
✅ Move to apply Kuzushi and take the opponent down as pictured.

First, I'll list 7 types of Ashi Sabaki and add a onliner translation. Pro Jumplinks included. Then, I'll go ahead and save you my biggest mistake in trying to improve my Ashi Sabaki...

Ready? 👇

The types of footwork layed out below are:

Ayumi Ashi "walking foot" take a step forward (step through)

Tsugi Ashi — "adding foot" step-up with the back foot and then advance with the front foot

Yori Ashi — "sending foot" slide in by coming closer with your front foot first, then slide along your back foot.

Surikomi Ashi — "rubbing foot" carefully step while sliding your foot over the floor without rotating your body.

Chidori Ashi — "Plover foot" step across sideways, one foot in front of the other.

Nijiri Ashi — "Shuffling foot" pulling the ground with your toes to move inch by inch (undetected in the old days with Hakama)

SURI ASHI — "Sliding foot" glide your foot over the floor as you do Ayumi Ashi.

Although there are more, such as Okuri Ashi, Yosei Ashi, and Hiki Ashi...

It would be a mistake to focus on ASHI. 

Ashi means foot (or leg). Sabaki means movement. So: foot movement.

HOWEVER: When you advance in Budo you have to move with your body, not just your legs.

So instead of Ashi Sabaki focusing on your foot...

Focus on the key points of the movement turning it into Koshi Sabaki. 

Koshi Sabaki is hip movement and the advanced way of Ashi Sabaki. Actually, we use "hip" because that is near the center of gravity, and it's practically what you focus on to move smoothly with your body.

👉 Think "Push your hip" instead of "move from Tanden". Although both can have the same outcome, push hip is easier to understand and execute.

(More details and a method for beginners to practise Koshi Sabaki is down below the page)

So with that said...

Keep this in mind when you study and practise Ashi Sabaki.

Let's start! ⬇️

The Most Basic Ashi Sabaki: AYUMI ASHI

Ayumu means to walk. Simply put, you have to take a step forward. 

  1. Push the hips forward slightly as you do Hiza No Nuki. 
  2. During your step, bring the back hip forward connecting to your back leg, to move with the whole  body.
The Digi Dojo - Ashi Sabaki - Ayumi Ashi

For convenience, these are 2 steps. But actually you can find 5 elements when you look closer as I explain in the video ⬇️

the 5 elements of ayumi ashi

The second you zoom in, you'll see there's more than "step forward and keep your back straight".

It is said that in Karate you use the whole body. Now that's a great saying but what does that mean practically?

One key is to let your upper body move independently from your lower body and vice versa.

When you do Ayumi Ashi (lower body) your Kamae (upper body) can be utilised effectively as you'll see in this video. 👇

What to do with kamae when you step forward?

tsugi ashi

Tsugi Ashi is essentially the same as Ayumi Ashi:

  • Bend knee
  • Push hip
  • Keep body straight
  • Float your Kamae
The Digi Dojo - Ashi Sabaki - Tsugi Ashi

The difference is mainly NO BODY ROTATION...

...and of course the fact that your back leg doesn't pass your front leg.

It's almost half an Ayumi Ashi and then advance forward with your front foot.

How to create smooth tsugi ashi

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yori ashi

Just slide in...

Essentially it's not difficult. We tend to make it difficult. Just move your front foot first and let the back foot slide along.

That's it.

Having said that... when you're looking to move with your body, you shouldn't think about your front and back foot. 

Instead, move your hip forward while connecting your hip, shoulders and head (they should form one line) and let your feet smoothly follow.

Ultimately the back foot moves in a connected manner. But that's difficult (say 4th Dan and up when it becomes effective). 

Not to discourage you though, the key is to NOT drag the back foot — it's the best place to start.

Also, move bit by bit first covering small distances 👇

ippon kumite tsuki uke 6

Ippon Kumite Tsuki Uke 6 clearly shows how to slide in bit by bit.

Using Yori Ashi, you can easily add body weight into your punch — it's not necessary to take a big step all the time.

Use the yellow line for your reference.


Have you ever analysed how humans walk?

Maybe you have to be a professional in a certain field — or a bit crazy (like me).

Either way, if you analyse it you will see that naturally you NEVER lead with your foot when you walk. Instead, feet smoothly follow.

The funny thing is that when it comes to Karate there are specific ways to move and with incorrect instruction this leads to leading with your foot. Let me stress once more to NEVER do that.

You telegraph, you lose power, it's slow.

Here's what to do instead 👇

The 2 most common errors of yori ashi and how to fix them

surikomi ashi

Surikomi ashi is the same as Tsugi ashi, but this time cross the supporting leg. 

The distance of the surikomi ashi depends on the situation. However, if you don’t cross the supporting leg it is called tsugi ashi. A variation of this movement is called Chidori Ashi, which is a style of walking on the edge of the feet. This can be seen in Naihanchi and Seishan.

The Digi Dojo - Ashi Sabaki - Surikomi Ashi

It is called surikomi ashi from hanmi dachi and chidori ashi from mahanmi dachi. In case of chidori ashi, the edge of the foot touches first naturally. Surikomu means to rub in, this might give you an idea of the movement. So lower your hips as you move and keep your foot close to the ground.

Be mindful of your centre line

3 keys to perfect surikomi ashi

chidori ashi

Chidori Ashi is the bird step which is a way of moving where you keep your body facing sideways.

Surikomi Ashi is very similar, but Surikomi Ashi is Hanmi. Chidori Ashi is a movement where the body stays Mahanmi.

The first Mawatte in Seishan for example, is emphasised by Chidori Ashi. Instead of minding your foot, focus on this specific hip movement instead.

The Only Explanation Of Chidori Ashi You'll Ever Need

nijiri ashi

The BEST Reason For Using Nijiri Ashi? (Which Is A Fairly Unknown Ashi Sabaki Outside Of Wado And Koryu)

Nijiri ashi is the art of pulling the body forward >> stealing Maai inch by inch.

The meaning is to feel Maai and Kiai, getting accustomed to the feeling of a closing Maai and a closing threat.

Learn how it feels to have your opponent close the distance. When he does — you and him learn how to measure intention. To force a response from your opponent.

Here's how to move with nijiri ashi

And also...

The stealing of Maai is a good way to feel Maai and Mazakai. 

Mazakai is the limit of the distance - as thin as a piece of paper.  Mazakai is the place where you have to attack. If you don't, your opponent will.

Mazakai is easily crossed using methods like Yori Ashi - that's why you approach Mazakai with Nijiri Ashi carefully. 

How nijiri ashi and Mazakai merge

Never hurry to execute the first attack. Learning to close Maai and feel the opponent is just as important as the lesson learned from the first attack.

Of course, there are other methods that help to develop a sense of Maai and your reach.

To approach and judge Mazakai however, Nijiri Ashi is one of the best methods - because the line is so incredibly thin.

suri ashi

How to glide forward with suri ashi

what is koshi sabaki?

It's Ashi Sabaki on steroids, so if you can >> use Koshi Sabaki — especially higher level students. 

Koshi means hip and therefore refers to using the centre to move. Not the feet.  Feet movement should be connected to your body movement as this will cause 3 things to happen: 

  1. Your movement is more smooth so more difficult to detect 
  2. Your power output increases so techniques will be more effective 
  3. It's one movement so it's faster 

Here's an example of explaining the exact same thing. First with focus on foot movement, then on the hips:

ASHI SABAKI >> From left stance, position your left foot next to your right, then execute Mawashigeri. 

KOSHI SABAKI >> Shift your weight back (pull your hip) as you twist your hip to the left. Use the weight shift and hip twist to pull your left foot next to your right foot. Without stopping, flow into Mawashigeri. 

Sanbon Kumite Chudan Uke 5 from Ishikawa Sensei teaches you exactly that 👇

Hidari Gamae
Chudan Soto Uke
Chudan Soto Uke
Chudan Soto Uke
Mawashigeri with the ball of the foot

Back in the day when forums were still very popular, I remember a comment from someone on this particular technique. If memory serves me well:

"This only creates bad habits"

Hopefully —after reading this page and studying the videos— you understand why that person was terribly wrong. He missed the most important point of this practise. 

Koshi Sabaki Allows To Correct The Distance And Kick In One Movement👇

sanbon kumite chudan uke 5

koshi sabaki in slow motion

this is the difference between ashi and koshi sabaki

systematically deepen your knowledge and improve your techniques?

activate your pro licence today

Revolutionise Your Karate With In-Depth Knowledge, Proven-Effective Methods And Practical Keys That Shortcut Your Learning Curve Without Finding Out Years Later That What You Learned Is "Wrong".

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