Posted by: Eddie deGuzman | December 8, 2008

Sole Man

by Eddie deGuzman

After a decade break from karate kata and strictly studying aikido, I dragged a few kata out of the corners of my mind and put them to video. The first thing I noticed was that I lift my feet when stepping. How could I have made such a blatant mistake even after so long? I put it down to being out of practice or maybe that my aikido stances are shallower and I’m not used to the longer, deeper stances of karate now. I made a note to work on the smooth sweeping steps on the balls of the feet. I’ve been thinking on it and now I’m not so sure it’s a mistake. I think showing my “sole” stems from the different way to move that I’ve learned from aikido.

Yesterday, I walked a couple of miles to Moji port after work. (Because I missed the bus. That then passed me two minutes later.) I experimented with my posture, balance and flow as I walked. I noticed that if I take shallow steps, my balance is easily maintained on the supporting leg while using the ball of the foot as the lead foot’s first contact with the ground. The further I get the more it disturbs my balance and in order to maintain it, I have to lower the supporting leg, adding more stress or simply ‘fall’ forward to distribute the forward moving weight. In other words, in the distance traveled from center, let’s say feet next to each other, and to the far corner of a front stance, there is a short amount of time that lacks balance and control.

Then I tried it normally, heel to toe. It was much easier to maintain an upright posture while moving forward and it didn’t feel like I was falling at all. It felt like I kept my balance and transferred my weight to my forward leg without a loss of control. It reminded me of tai chi videos I’d seen before. After a little research on the net, this seems to be the basic stepping movement in tai chi. There is a move to center to maintain balance and a step forward, heel to toe with a smooth weight transfer and erect posture. I should mention that the move to center has the toes down and only goes heel to toe on the forward half of the step.

This phenomenon is very interesting to me because for a while now I’ve been thinking that aikido and tai chi movement(not technique) are very similar. And while trying to show how principles in aikido can be applied to karate, I’ve found another tai chi like trait that reinforces the aikido-tai chi connection I’ve been pondering. Being taught how to ‘step’ is one thing, but discovering that you ‘step’ that way now naturally, “self-knowledge”, is kind of cool.

Now if this truly is a “better” way to move, as in more balanced and controlled, then what does it mean for traditional karate movement and stances? If one wants to eliminate that small “loss of control”, I only see two options: change the way you move your feet(from ball of the foot focus to heel-toe) or make your stances shallower so that the loss of balance never becomes an issue. Since a lower stance usually means a stronger stance, finding the sweet spot between controlled movement and ending stance-stability might be something interesting to work on.

For myself, I think I will experiment with the kata more, focusing on the footwork and try and find consistency in my movement. It’s still not an easy thing, mixing arts, not that they should be mixed. But so far, I like what this little experiment is yielding.

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