The Sequence of Movement

 The Sequence of Movement

"Step to the left, beware of the right."

"Step to the front, guard the rear."

In the ancient lexicon of Tai Chi Chuan, these principles govern all movement.

Beneath all, there is rooting. After rooting, there is the art of movement. Between rooting and the art of movement is proper sequencing of movement.

Proper sequencing incepts with the mantra, "eyes, feet, hands."

In essence, your eyes move first, your feet second, and your hands last. The caveat, "Step to the left, beware of the right" further establishes the sequence by emphasizing once a tactical movement has culminated, the "eyes, feet, hands" cycle kicks off once again with the eyes immediately scanning the horizon for the next threat, or opportunity.

While the rule is simple, the realization can be difficult. Complicating implementation is the fact this rule, like all rules, does not hold true all of the time (including the rule just stated). There are exceptions to everything. Our immediate

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concern however is developing clean habits. A clean habit is one that becomes automatic, transitions into personal reflex, and, in time of crisis manifests as automatic response. Ideally, when threatened, you are responding from instinct and reflex. Thinking in the midst of crisis and threat, is like driving a car with brakes on. You can do it, you may even get to your destination, but eventually, you will pay the price.

"Eyes first" means you perceived the threat, "feet second" means you have understood the threat and identified optimal position to defend and counter, "hands third" means you have responded. Yes, there will arise moments when you have no option but to act outside the sequence. That's life! The sequence is about strategic focus. The more consistently you move properly, the further the scale of victory tilts your way.

Discussing the skill is one thing, actualizing it is quite another.

In Gun Fu, we have numerous exercises targeting proper sequencing of movement. In the Iron Crane Dojo, we have found the following method to be extraordinarily effective, particularly when introducing the concept.

As a foundation for teaching sequencing, we use the Taikyoku Shodan form from Shotokan Karate. Bear in mind, we are not a Shotokan Karate school. We adopt what works, and what helps us to perfect concepts. As every martial arts teacher understands, we're not each reinventing the wheel. Wherever possible, we stand on the shoulders of those innovators who preceded us.

Taikyoku Shodan's utter simplicity belies the profound lessons it contains regarding sighting, stance, balance and power. When someone performs this form, the skilled observer immediately recognizes their strengths and weaknesses. Within the simple framework of Taikyoku Shodan, there is simply no place to hide your flaws. Quirks in balance, timing, and movement will scream out for your teacher's immediate attention. This form, said to have been created by Gichen Funakoshi, was named "first cause" (sometimes interpreted as "Kata of the Universe"), leaving no doubt as to its significance for Funakoshi.

This is where we take students when its time for them to learn sequence of movement. Taikyoku Shodan is the "Bible" of sequential movement. Scan, step/root, block/punch, then scan...over and over, throughout the form, until it becomes second nature. The look...step...block...counter cycle sets up, and then repeats. The form drills this cycle amidst several breaks in timing and changes in direction, mimicking conditions under which the movement sequence will have to be applied in actual self defense. Combine that with rock solid stance and committed forward movement, and your show is ready for the road.

This is Karate's drinking water, the snake with no legs, the empty mirror.

Below, I’ve included a video.  It starts with two clips  of students performing the Kata. They are executing at a relaxed pace, for viewing purposes. Take a moment or two and view the form, being careful to note its layout in the pattern of the letter "H". Within the Kata, the student visualizes an alleyway. He/she imagines a wall behind, and an opposing wall immediately to the front on the other side of the alley. In effect all action and movement takes place between two walls.

After several viewings, you'll begin to see the emerging sequence to be as follows:

Start with back to the wall.

1. Block and counter to the left.

2. Turn 180 degrees, block and counter to the right. Note, you never turn into the wall. There is no need! The wall is a constant, you know what's there, and you know there is nothing between you and the wall. Since you just turned to the left, you must beware of the right! Within the context of the form, your eyes always turn in the arc which takes your eyes through the center point of the form, or the midpoint of the "H". This guarantees you have maximized your visual survey.

3. After addressing the attack from the right, you break to the center. You just neutralized the left and right, the wall is behind, your open exposure is now the center. While the attackers you just neutralized are regrouping, you evacuate the hazard zone by moving 90 degrees away.

4. You execute several strikes across the middle, and cross to the opposing wall. There are potential attackers to your left and right. You break to the right, again taking the path (counterclockwise) where your eyes define an arc crossing through the center point of the form. This ensures you have completed a full visual scan of the entire fighting arena, while you move against the attacker on your right. Turning in this fashion also angles your body slightly away from the threatening right side attacker. The person you were striking on the way across the "H" is left in position between you and the threat to the far left.

5. After neutralizing the attacker to the right, your eyes swing clockwise through the center of the pattern, and lock onto the next attacker who is now 180 degrees behind (this sequence is the same as #2 above). Again, your eyes have scanned the entire field of action.

6. Now you once again cross the center of the circle (same as #3).

7. Sequence 4 & 5 repeat in bringing the form to conclusion.

Now that you are comfortable with the general look and layout of the form, let's view it once again, this time with the demonstrator articulating the sequence of movement as the form is presented.

Katas Demonstrated Followed by Detailed Explanation


After several viewings, you will be ready to apply the concept in your own training. You can adopt the Taikyoku pattern as we have done, or you can experiment with forms from your own system. Again, doing it first with basic movement is what makes Taikyoku Shodan an ideal framework. However, mastery of sequential movement means applying it in all your forms, until it becomes second nature and part of your instinctive movement.

As a final suggestion, once proper sequencing is established, give some consideration to the Ground Rules of Sequential Movement (see below). Once your body has mastered sequence, train your mind to incorporate the ground rules in setting up the most effective response, consistent with your newly emerging and personal awareness of proper movement.

Ground Rules of Sequential Movement

  • Step to the left, beware of the right.
  • Move forward, cover your rear.
  • Execute high, observe the low.
  • Defend low, strike high.
  • Defend outside, slip inside or go to the rear.
  • Protect inside, flow outside or go through.
  • Combining any number of the above. For example: "Move forward, Execute high, cover your rear, observe the low"; "Defend outside, defend low, go to the rear, strike high"...etc.

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