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Footwork From Summer Camp

This is the post I was supposed to do last month:

Footwork: what most beginning students hate to work on because it seems so boring, because it seems to easy to do, and because it is so hard to get right.  Worst of all, because punchs and kicks seem more important than stances, forgetting about footwork is so easy.

We're not accustomed to thinking about what our feet and legs are doing.  They do their job without supervision, and we gladly let them.  So when we must consider the smallest details of our feet, ankles, knees, thighs, hips and butt, we  slip into frustration rather quickly. 

What I learned this summer about footwork was less about new ideas and more about expanding and truly internalizing those ideas.

Let's say my feet are like this--heels at shoulder width, toes out: \  /

Now rotate me 90 degrees to the right so I can keep using little symbols to explain this. :)

I'm going to move the right foot forward (zenkutsu dachi)  /    _    and bend my front knee while keeping the back leg straight.  Were I to move my right heel back on a straight line, my feet would still be at or near shoulder width.  That's a pretty standard karate stance, coming down the line from when Itosu Sensei introduced karate into Okinawan schools around 1901.  It's found in Shotokan, Tae Kwon Do, and so forth. When a punch is thrown straight ahead from that stance, and the wrist is in the proper position, the knuckles of the pointer and middle finger are on line to hit first.

Now let's say I start with heels together, and move my right foot forward on a straight line. (Think fencing.)  The width of my stance would be no more than a fist.  This narrows the angle of the hips and shoulders, shifts the energy line of the center and arm, and results in a punch that can too easily roll onto the middle and ring finger knuckles.  Higher risk of injury to the wrist and small bones.

But those narrow stances apparently predate the wider ones.  We see this in studying Yamanni Ryu (Okinawan weapons system), an art that has seen less "modernization" because it isn't popular and widespread.  Yamanni Ryu stances are narrow because it's a weapons system, and early empty hand arts used those narrow stances because many evolved from weapons training. Lastly, those early empty hand arts used a great deal more open-hand (shuto) techniques than fists, and narrow stances do a better job of generating power for them than the wider stances.

It's suspected the open-to-closed-hand change came about via Itosu Sensei and his understanding that the system needed to be adapted if it was to be taught to everyone, and at young ages.  So the change in hand technique led to a change in stance, and leaves most folks today thinking that what they learn of the "ancient art" today must be the Best! Ever! For Everything!

So that's the abbreviated version of what I learned, and what I spent a great deal of time experimenting with, at summer camp.

As for the internalization of technique...I'm not sure I can explain it.  It's understanding the difference between moving forward and stepping forward.  Stepping waits for your center to catch up to the movement of the lower body.  Movement is initiated from the center.  It's like the difference between climbing stairs (stepping) and going downstairs.  Maintaining balance while working with gravity uses different muscle groups, and a different awareness.  But it's far easier to generate energy working with gravity than against it.

Does that make sense?

Other karate topics I'd like to get to eventually:

Divorcing breathing from movement
Relaxing in a fight
Karate posture vs. "proper" posture



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
Sep. 11th, 2012 01:14 am (UTC)

Weirdly, western fencing is pretty much backwards of this-- the modern art has gotten so stylized that the stance is super-narrow or even with the back heel a fist-width *behind* the front one because the main priority is to keep your body rotated to present as narrow a target area as possible on the strip. There were some weird linear things in the renaissance fencing schools (once the priority had begun to shift from battlefield tactics to dueling) but for the most part the shift in basic stance width is an artifact of the transition from fighting to sport fencing.
Sep. 12th, 2012 10:02 am (UTC)
Oh, that is interesting!

Karate tournaments have greatly influenced stances as well, forcing them lower and lower as a demonstration of leg strength. Kata performed by the old-school masters never looked like that.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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