Rooting is the process of forcing an opponent (or yourself) to drop and distribute weight down and through the legs in such a way that the legs cannot readily move from that position. A classic example is when you force someone back slightly so that all of his or her weight is evenly distributed on both of their heels. It is very difficult to move quickly from this position and while in this condition a person is said to be rooted.
Another example is to place downward and slightly backward pressure on a person’s torso such that their weight is settling down toward their rear while their feet remain slightly forward of this position. Because of the way the weight is distributed over the legs a person will find it very difficult to move while in this structural alignment. When we speak of being rooted we mean that a person is positioned such that their legs must bear weight in a manner that precludes the legs from moving to establish a new position. Experiment to see if you can reliably root a training partner. There are a great many different ways this can be accomplished.
You might consider the case of someone standing in Ippon Dachi. They are by definition rooted on their single pedestal leg. This is what occurs when someone is performing a Mae Geri. While the kick is in the air the person kicking is usually rooted on their pedestal leg (it is possible for them to not be rooted, but this takes conscious thought and a different method of kick delivery). This is why if someone catches your kick before it can be returned you may find yourself suddenly at great risk.
In a similar vein a person standing in Neko Ashi Dachi is rooted upon their supporting leg. However, it is somewhat more difficult to take advantage of this rooting because it takes very little time for the person to shift some or all of their weight to their other leg to change their current structure. This is an inherent advantage of the Neko Ashi Dachi. The stance is not infallible; it is still possible to take advantage of this single supporting leg before any weight transfer could occur (or better still, while it is occurring), but there is a very small window of time in which this can be accomplished.
Most common stances rely on rooting. Sanchin Dachi is a classic example. This stance derives its effectiveness from the ability of the practitioner to essentially become one with the earth. Soundly pulling yourself into the floor or ground is an essential mental model for doing this stance well.
But most stances rely on rooting to a large extent. If you examine any stance you will see how it relies on the ability to distribute weight over the legs and feet. Our standard Stances Diagram shows this fairly clearly. You can readily see where and how the stance distributes weight from the legs into the floor. These diagrams suggest how you are rooted when adopting this stance.
When you block, parry, or otherwise manipulate a person you will cause them to become momentarily rooted. They must root themselves to resist or accommodate any movements you have induced into their structure. Try to notice this when you work with a training partner. You will notice that anytime you move your opponent at least one leg will become rooted.
The fact that a person is rooted should not come as a surprise. You are rooted anytime you stand. One or both of your legs must carry and support your weight. Therefore you are constantly rooted. But how you are rooted can shift and change over time. If you move an opponent then the way they are being rooted will change. They will either increase the weight on a supporting leg or shift some or all of their weight to another leg.
A person may become rooted using nearly any area of his or her foot. It is seldom the case that a person is rooted across the entire expanse of the foot. Typically people become rooted on the heel, outside edge, or ball of the foot. In extreme cases a person may be rooted on the toes or at times on the inside edge of the foot. So you can change how a person is rooted by causing them to simply shift so they must support weight with a different part of the foot. As this occurs the person will become vulnerable to different forms of manipulation or attack. Generally speaking we seek to shift a person’s structural alignment so that most or all of the person’s weight is placed over one small part of the foot. This usually makes it difficult for the person to subsequently move that foot. Often the manipulation to make this occur can be quite small and subtle.
In Tensoku Ryu we constantly strive to root our opponent so that the condition is to our immediate advantage. When a person is rooted they are susceptible to various strikes to different portions of their anatomy that have either gone rigid or soft (different strikes might be employed in either case). They are also susceptible to other forms of control and manipulation. When an experienced Tensoku Ryu practitioner has caused a person to become rooted the practitioner knows there is an immediate opportunity to employ Nage. In many cases there is also an opportunity for Kansetsu Waza. Yet in other situations we might utilize a rooting moment to further compromise and weaken a person’s structural integrity.
This is done by forcing, guiding, or disrupting the opponent so they are now rooted somewhere else. This is a continual cycle of rooting and then shifting the rooting of the opponent again. Over a short expanse of time the person’s structure becomes distorted and they find it nearly impossible to move or perhaps to even stand. With experience this is not hard to do.
But being rooted has its advantages too. You will naturally find that some activities benefit from you being soundly rooted. Kicking is an obvious example. Many (but not all) kicks require that you have one foot on the ground. Another obvious example is a strike such as Oi Tsuki. Much of the power in this type of strike comes from the ability to be firmly anchored to the ground at the moment of impact. The strike can be used in other beneficial ways as well, but using a rooting action is a common method for developing power in this, and other, strikes (this would be employing what we call second level timing).
You will find that you use rooting yourself for most common forms of kicking, striking, blocking, parrying, throwing, and other manipulative actions. It is the most natural way to perform these skills. But it is not the only way they can be done. As you become more advanced you will naturally look for ways to root your opponent while not rooting yourself. This is a much more advanced skill that you will not need to worry about until you have moved into the intermediate belt rankings. Until then realize that both you and your opponent are rooted at various moments during a conflict. How and when you take advantage of these rooting patterns can have a tremendous bearing on the outcome of a conflict.
You will want to start paying close attention to when you have become rooted and when you have been able to affect the rooting of an opponent. These are essential skills. You want to perfect your ability to detect these events early. Once you appreciate rooting you will find that many new avenues of study and analysis are available.