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What is Ti?

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Talking or writing about Ti is difficult. Answering the question, "What is Ti?" is even more difficult. Any answer will, by necessity, be full of qualifications and almost all who read it will find some similarity to what they "do" in their training, leaving the reader wondering what is so special about Ti.

First and foremost, Ti is intensely and specifically personal. In the Shinjinbukan we refer to Onaga sensei's Ti. Ti does not stand alone by itself as a system or curriculum to be read and manualized; Ti belongs to a person and is passed from individual to individual in the oral tradition of old-school Okinawan dojo. Once a person begins to learn Ti, it becomes easier to recognize those who "have no Ti" in their karate. Those who have trained and learned Ti for many years can look at individuals doing karate and point out those who do not appear to understand what they are doing.

Ti is, above all, about learning how to never lose. This is very different from sport-karate schools that teach their students how to win. Learning how to never lose is to train one's body in the proper form (kata or mold); to train one's feet, legs and hips how to move the body; to train one's arms and hands to touch an opponent and to change (Findi) when needed; to train one's thumbs and wrists to allow your fists to penetrate the target. These things, in part, are Ti. Learning how to never lose is learning how to think about your karate using the principles of Ti.

Ti is not a circle but a sphere. It is moving oneself around and within that sphere. It is the sound of machiwara struck properly, emanating the high pitched "ping" characteristic of effective tsuki. Ti is movement and constant change. Ti is knowing how to make the initial touch with the opponent and knowing what to do before, during and after the initial touch that will allow one to never lose. Karate without Ti, is just punching and kicking. The Ti that we train at the Shinjinbukan has been passed down from Onaga sensei to his deshi and their students and cannot be defined in any succinct way any more than the traditions of an entire culture can be contained in a school text book. Onaga sensei would say that "Ti wa chiie" -Ti is wisdom, meaning it is a way to understand or think about technique and fighting theory. An analogous term would be Miyamoto Musashi's use of the term "Heiho" - strategy. This is the way we use the term Ti.

Once learned, Ti irrevocably changes the way that an individual views their karate.

written by: Dr. Timothy Black

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