Tenkan vs Tenkai

A question came up the other today about the difference between the words "tenkan" and "tenkai" which I think gets confused at times. As far as I understand it...

Tenkan 転換 breaks down as:
suddenly, quickly 
change, alter, substitute
and together 転換 as convert or divert

You might think of it as changing direction suddenly, or diverting uke's energy. In aikido, it refers to a turning movement (tenkan ashi), usually 180 degrees:

Tenkai 転回, however, breaks down like this:
suddenly, quickly
turn, rotate, revolve
and together 転回 as revolution or rotation

In much of the aikido world, it refers to a form of movement, what we commonly call a "hip switch", where you turn 180 degrees but without moving our feet (we do it in the Walking Kata, but there it's called "ude goshi gaeshi" or arm-hip reversal, which frankly is probably more clear):

Both tenkan and tenkai are part of what's called tai sabaki or methods of moving the body.

So, what about technique names like "tenkai kote hineri" and "tenkai kote gaeshi"? To start with, one should bare in mind these names are primarily a Tomiki Aikido preference. Ueshiba styles refer to them as sankyo or "third control" and simply shiho nage respectively.

To me, though, "rotating wrist twist" or "rotating wrist reversal" doesn't paint a very clear picture of what I'm doing. Now, I have seen some define tenkai as "inversion", or as I like to call it "bass ackwards" which makes more sense to me visually. With "inverted wrist twist / reversal" I'm putting my hand in a sort of inverted position compared to the regular kote hineri / gaeshi.

(By all means, if anyone reading this has any other light to shed on the subject, please share!)


  1. Tenshin - turning around the back leg, and often done to a 45 but can be done to whatever angle might be needed. Hantai Tenkan doesn't move the rear leg, but tenshin tends to move sideways first.
    Tenkan, 180 is the basic and turning on the forward foot, but I have been shown 45, 90, 270 and whatever. In the Tohei lineage, this meant what Aikikai now calls Ura.
    Tenkai does not involve changing foot position to turn, like you describe.

    All of the above can be done from one position, or with a bit of tsugi-ashi in any particular direction. The turn can be done to face Uke, or face away. There is a choice as to which leg is weighted at the end of the turn. They can all be leading (active) or blending (passive), and where you are in relation to each other gives different options too. Ahead of Uke, easier to cast forward; more behind, easier to cause Uke to circle around. Ultimately, just ABCs that are supposed to be combined in any particular necessary combination.


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