Saturday, 18 June 2016

Footwork- New and Old

I still believe that we have Bruce Lee to thank for the footwork we see in sports karate today.

He, as we know, started out with traditional kungfu, but also had a lot of admiration for the late Mohammed Ali. Now his Tao of Jeet Kune Do shows that he has taken a lot from boxing.

Where with styles like Western Fencing, Boxing and Sports Karate we see that a springy movement mainly on the balls of the feet are preferred we may believe that this is how we also defend ourselves.

If you have read Sensei Iain's article from last week, however, you'd know that this is not the mark of  traditional karate. The footwork I use in the photos above are from Xingyiquan and is a sample of the footwork I use in Wenhsiuquan as well. Taijiquan is also known for using it.

With forward movement Shaolin Kungfu and Karate seem to prefer landing on the ball of the foot with every step first before settling weight onto the stepping foot. In my experience it actually makes the step quicker. 

Wudang styles seem to prefer a stance like Cat Stance where one leg is firmly on the ground while the other is kept light and mobile to move about. I have traded Bruce Lee's fighting stance for this a couple of times, but I have also found that although this stance conserves energy it makes you lazy. At the WSKF dojo we have started rope-jumping and work on our bouncy kamae. I have found that this actually makes the legs stronger and that I have become more mobile after that. I do know its limits, though.

In a conversation with a former navy soldier- from which a couple of demonstrations followed- I have noticed that military hand-to hand combat does not use the springy footwork seen in combat sports. It seems that natural footwork is preferred in life and death situations. The paragraph below is from Musashi Miyamoto's Book of Five Rings. If the advice of a person who has survived 61 sword fights is anything to go on I think it is something we have to take note of.

Although Bruce Lee was not known as a martial arts contestant a lot of what he says on footwork seems to come from boxing. He has, however, stressed economy and I can imagine that these long, at times even aerial, lunges we see in WKF tournaments nowadays would not sit well with him. From the paragraphs below we can see what in footwork was important to him.

What I find non-negotiable in the entire affair, though is that all blows intended to do damage are to come from a solid stance. You may choose to be light on your feet while setting the opponent up or evading an attack, but when it is time to attack your feet have to be firmly on the ground. 

Another important thing that I often teach is that you know your counterattack should not require a step forward. 

Now we know why we don't see any kata with springy shuffling back and forth. I have noticed some jumps and long lunges in kungfu forms, though. I will agree that it can be effective with the element of surprise on your side, but know that you are taking a huge risk.

Baguazhang is a Wudang form of martial art that uses circular footwork. I find this very useful as we often find that our opponents' guards protect them best against attacks from the front. Making your opponent have to adjust to your changing position also gives you an advantage. 

Lastly I want to remind you all of the Taoist principle that pursuing and striving exhausts or energy. If you must go forward, let it be in the most economical way possible. Let your opponent do at least half of the work, though. Most martial artists are prepared for a person coming at him/ her head-on from a distance after all. 

That's it for the weekend. Hope you all have a great week! :)

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