A Lexicon of Te

The following are some words, terms and definitions used in Okinawan Te & Udun-di:

TeTe is taught very differently to many martial arts, focusing not on endlessly practising techniques by rote, but on grouping things together by principles and practice modes.  This approach encourages trainees to reach for the principles behind techniques rather than for the techniques themselves.  Te has relatively few quantifiable ‘techniques’ so you will not find lists and definitions of them here.  It is the continual deepening of understanding of principles, and development of sensitivity to ones’ partners, that allows for more varied and skilful practice over time (rather like in the games of Chess or Go, which have few rules but seemingly endless permutations).  The process of ‘internal realisation’ (understanding of the ramifications of the principles), is typically the way that Zen based learning works – understanding comes as a series of epiphanies, through continually folding the trainee back on themselves until the penny drops.  It is the opposite of learning by rote, which is not truly learning for oneself, and which therefore may let one down under pressure. 

Anji no mei no kata;  

‘Formless-form’.  ‘Anji no mei no kata’ is comprised of fundamental Te ‘form’ in the sense of basic techniques and principles of movement, but they are set in a formless framework and should manifest spontaneously, rather than come from ‘ground in’ memory (as in kata).


Striking methods; delivered using various parts of the body – palms, one-knuckle fists, digits, elbows, knees and feet etc, to various targets on the opponent.

Bugeisha & Onna Bugeisha;

‘Gentleman Warrior’ & ‘Lady Warrior’.  Titles which relate to the Okinawan aristocracy and class system, rather than the Japanese ‘Budoka’, which relates to militarism and ‘bushido’ – the code of conduct of the samurai.

Do & Dojo;

‘The Way’.  ‘Do’ is the Japanese term for a spiritual ‘Way’ or path to Enlightenment.  Coupled with ‘jo’ it means ‘the place where a ‘Way’ is studied‘, literally a ‘Way-place’

* Related to the Chinese ‘Tao’ and the Indian ‘Dharma’.


The lower abdomenals, psoas muscles, pelvic floor and sacrum.  Use of the hara enables us to coordinate our movements (and techniques), via the core, which leads to far greater physical efficiency.

The hara is also however, ‘the seat of the subconscious’ , which deals with our survival instincts and procreative drives.  Referred to variously as the ‘id’, the ‘reptile-mind’, or by the yogi’s as the ‘kundalini’ (a great black cobra that dwells at the base of the spine), this part of us can be super-aggressive, utterly ruthless, and totally lacking in conscience or morality.  Therefore it is utterly essential that we keep this potential under the control of the higher mind.

Engaging the ‘hara’ is therefore at the heart of  te, enabling us to unite mind, body and spirit, and to keep a clear head.

* For a fuller explanation please refer to ‘The Hara’, under ‘Okinawan Te/Udun-di’ posts.


‘Entry stratagies’; methods of ‘entry’ into close quarter combat, using a simultaneous avoid/parry/strike.  There are only four fundamental ‘irime’ in te, with little variation needed to account for different attacks.


The lowest level of ‘tui-te’, karami-te includes basic grabbing, gripping and binding methods.


‘Form’.  Kata is a set series of techniques designed to condition the body and teach set responses to different attacks.  It also teaches concepts and principles of movement.



Weapons practice.  Te-kobudo was originally a battlefield art, and all of it’s movement paradigms – with or without weapons – are drawn from the use of bladed weaponry.  In dojo practice mock wooden or rubber weapons are used for safety reasons.  Live blades, even blunted ones, are not permitted.

* For individual weapons see ‘Weapons list’ below.

Kyusho & Kyusho-jutsu;

The martial terms for ‘pressure-points’ & ‘pressure-point fighting’.  In te exercises pressure-point strikes are substituted, for safety reasons, with ‘feints’, or for example, with a firm but compelling ‘prodding’ or ‘kneading’ action with a thumb or knuckle, to engage a ‘flinch response’  The reactions caused by this point-work can then be monopolised upon with follow-up grappling and restraint techniques.

Warning;  There is a current martial arts fascination with ‘pressure-testing’ hard kyusho strikes in the name of realism, which is extremely dangerous and can result in the collapse of the nervous system, strokes, organ failure (inc’ the heart), and death – which effects may manifest immediately or some while later.  This is why the literal translation of the Chinese name for kyusho-jutsu, ‘Dim Mak’, is ‘death-touch’.  Remember, we all have to live with the consequences of our actions, legal, social, and emotional, and karma can be a ‘harsh mistress’.

* For a fuller explanation please refer to ‘Kyusho & kyusho-jutsu’ under ‘Okinawan Te/Udun-di’ posts.

Rinki ohen;

Being able to change direction at will to meet an ever-evolving situation.  This can mean within an individual scenario, ie, from one wrist technique to another as the situation develops and tactile feedback is felt and responded too, or, before combat has initiated ie by diplomatically defusing the situation.


‘Te’ (variations ‘ti’ or ‘di’).  ‘Te’ lit’ trans’, ‘hand’ or ‘martial skills’.  See also ‘Udun-di’.

Te is the original martial art of the Ryukyu (Three Kingdoms), aristocracy.  It is a highly refined ‘internal’ martial art, dealing with both weapons and empty-hand skills, and using movement paradigms drawn from the sword.  It was used both on the battlefield and for self-defense, as well as for health and longevity.

Te is highly mobile, exquisitely elegant, and, to an attacker, alarmingly efficient.  It does not rely on strength or aggression, but rather on a constant flow of movement, making Te exponents very tricky to target – which in multiple-attacker scenarios makes it an ideal art.  The continual flow and turns of Te also make for maximum efficiency in applying ‘tui-te’ (advanced wrist and hand grappling).  Te’s highest ideal is the principle of ‘non-harm’ and the preservation of life (if at all possible), although if needs-must it can be easily stepped-up to a deadly level – the only difference needed being a change of intent.

* For more information about Te & Udun-di please see the ‘Martial Arts’ page of this website.

** For information concerning the word ‘Te’, please see ‘Okinawan Te, Karate & ‘Te’; The Confusion’, under ‘Okinawan Te & Udun-di’ posts.

Tui-te / Tori-te;

(also tui-di); ‘Take-hand’. also known as ‘The art of non-harming’.  Tui-te is all about controlling the involuntary reflexes through wrist or hand manipulation – regardless of whether the hand holds a weapon or not.  It is often used in conjunction with pressure-point distractions, to ‘loosen’ the recipient.

Tui-te / Tori-te no gaeshi;

‘Tuite (or tori-te), no gaeshi’; ‘to return, or reverse, a grapple’.  Te has several methods of escaping from a wrist-grapple and re-applying it to the original grappler.  Practice may continue with ‘gaeshi no gaeshi’ – ‘to return the return’, producing a ‘lock-flow’ between the practitioners as the roles are continually reversed.


‘Udun-di’;  Udun-di is the soft, meditative aspect of Te known as ‘old mans’ Te’, and is the very highest level of refinement of technique and very subtle.  Udun-di is based around meditative walking and is the ‘rooted’ or ‘grounded’ side of Te.  It looks to the untrained eye to be ineffective but this is an illusion bought about by its slow methods (the skill is in the timing, not the speed), which look like slow dance, and is indeed related to dance.  No ‘kata’ (fixed form), is practiced in Te, but rather what is known as ‘anji no mei no kata’ or ‘formless-form’, working on a set of movement principles rather than on a set of techniques.  The accompanying dances were known as ‘The dance of the feudal Lords’.

* For more information about Te & Udun-di please see the ‘Martial Arts’ page of this website.


‘Exit strategies’; methods of ‘exiting’ safely from a situation or technique, usually referring to a break-fall, a rolling break-fall or a roll-to-standing.  Even running-away is a form of ukemi.


‘To maintain perfect posture and martial awareness’.

An awareness of one’s internal ‘self’, posture and capabilities etc, extended into a 360 degree external awareness of ones’ environment, especially of potential assailants, weapons visible, ma-ai (fighting distance and options), and escape routes etc.  Social factors also come into this, like the ‘mood’ of a room, or the changing look of intent in someones eyes (ie the sudden decision to attack).

Zen & Zazen;

‘Meditation’ & ‘Seated (Jap’ kneeling) meditation’.

To empty the mind, often beginning using breathing to the hara as a focal point.  The practice of zen is also heavily related to posture.  Zen practice allows the practitioner to ‘live in the moment’, responding freely and intuitively to an ever-changing environment.

Weapons list;

Commonly used te weapons (with their ‘safety substitutes’, shown in brackets), are as follows;-


Jo & Bo  (4 ft stick & 6 ft staff).  Whether used to thrust or hit, the stick and staff both employ a twist at the end to focus a strike.  The jo is probably the most adaptable of all the weaponry included here, except possibly the knife.

Truncheon.  With a truncheon the strike uses a flick of the wrist at the end for whip-like power generation.  Otherwise their use is generally governed by the same principles of te as the rest.


Katana – curved sword. (Wooden replica, a ‘bokken’). Okinawan katana are shorter than their Japanese counterparts, with a blade of about 24 inches, and the draw is faster for two reasons;  a) they can clear the scabbard faster – being shorter, and b), the scabbard is hand-held rather than thrust through the belt, which allows for it to be drawn-back as the blade is drawn-forward.  The shorter length makes them easier to wield one-handed than their Japanese cousin, and the scabbard itself can be fielded as a secondary weapon.

Naginata – staff with a curved short-sword on one end or both.  (Jo or bo).

Tanto – knife.  Often used in pairs (Rubber replicas or rolled magazines). .  Broken bottle  (Plastic drink bottle).  The slash or thrust of which is covered under knife trajectories.

Wakasashi – Curved short sword. Often used in pairs.  (Wooden replicas).

Yari – Hand-spear (Jo or bo).

Other weapons, such as Nunchaku (flail), tonfa (side-handle baton), and Sai (short trident), are sometimes considered for novelty value but they are not main-stays of Te training.

Modes of operation;


(also Yu-te); ‘Play-hand’.  Asobi-te is a training mode in which partners ‘play’ with each other using tui-te, not taking techniques to their full extent, and allowing each other to learn how to both apply and receive, or reverse, techniques.  This is non-competitive and should ebb-and-flow between partners.


‘Dance-hand’.  Odori-te is more compelling than asobi-te and results in the receiver involuntarily ‘dancing’ to the appliers tune – essentially through having their nervous system usurped so that the recipient bounces from one involuntary reflex to another until they are either caught in a standing-restraint, controlled down to a ground-restraint, or thrown.

Odori-te practice may be started with partners standing face-to-face, but is more frequently initiated from a more martial scenario – where one person attacks with a random technique and the other defends and controls them.

Hand-strength combined with great sensitivity is needed to find the ‘biting-point’ and keep these techniques in play.  These, and many other te techniques, will only work if the ‘hara’ is engaged throughout, linking the hands to the foot movements.

An advanced set of Odori-te techniques based on finger-grappling methods are as follows;

Oshi-te;  ‘push hand’ – this is not the same as Tai Chi’s ‘push-hands’.

Konari-te; ‘twisting or kneading-hand, and

Ogami-te; ‘prayer-hand’.


‘Battle-hand’.  Kassen-te is as close as Te comes to looking like sport karate (or pugilism).  Techniques include punches – using one-knuckle strikes (a closed fist is never used in te), kicks (generally with the points of the toes, or knees, to vital points in the legs, abdomen or lower ribs), and, I believe, uniquely, uses a triple strike with both fists (or thumbs), plus a foot – all going into pressure-points simultaneously.  To the recipient this is neurally overwhelming, as our nervous system is not wired to cope with two, let alone three, simultaneous flinch responses, and even light use can be completely disorientating.  Kassen-te also employs tuite, but taken beyond its ‘safe training’ limits, so that what are positive and therapeutic stretches in class, can become highly destructive joint-breaks or killing techniques – should this be the only option left to us (for instance in a group attack situation).

Kassen-te is often used to preempt a weapon attack, denying the assailant the chance to have ‘first go’, or in a group situation where the safest course of action for everyone (group of attackers included) may be to impressively ‘take out’, the ring-leader and forestall the whole group by cutting the head from the snake – triage applied martially.

For obvious safety reasons these techniques are practiced on thin-air (pulled short as feints), or in slow motion.  To allow the adrenaline of a real situation into te training is physically very dangerous and is destructive to the psychology of the group as a whole.  This is not permitted in the dojo, and kassen-te should only be used in real situations for the preservation of life and for the greater good.

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