In this article we will cover various aspects of movement. We will discuss how to move appropriately in some situations and how you might employ movement strategically. This article will not cover every possible movement concept, but we will cover many that we hope you find both interesting and beneficial. You will want to consider incorporating these movement ideas into your practice sessions and Kata. We will start by talking about what might be occurring when you are not moving.
To be structurally aligned correctly (when standing) you need your mother line to be vertically straight and a supporting column that extends down from your hips to the ground. This supporting column can be comprised of one or both legs. If a leg is supporting your weight in some manner then it is considered to be “loaded”. If a leg is not supporting your upper torso then it is unloaded. A leg that only bears part of your weight is considered to be partially loaded. A leg supporting all of your weight (as would a pedestal leg) is said to be fully loaded. A leg that bears 50% of your weight (therefore the other leg would also bear 50% of your weight) is also considered to be fully loaded.
In Kokutsu Dachi the back leg would be considered to be fully loaded and the front leg partially loaded. In Neko Ashi Dachi the front leg is ideally unloaded. In Sochin Dachi, both legs are equally loaded, as is also the case with a great many other stances, including deliberately rooted stances such as Sanchin Dachi.
If you stand stationary then the best way to support your upper body is to have both legs rooted so they equally carry the weight pressing downward along your mother line. When you move you want to transfer your weight from one leg to another so as to maintain proper support beneath your mother line. This can be tricky and few people do it well, at least initially.
Moving is a subtle interplay of actions that allow you to fully load one leg, move the other leg to a new position, and then transfer weight onto that leg in its new position. Where most people do this incorrectly is they allow the weight transition to happen as a sudden falling action. This means you have shifted all of your weight onto the moving leg before it has touched the ground.
This is seldom a problem for people who are out for a casual stroll or who are taking part in a morning or afternoon run. Aside from a sudden misstep or uneven pavement people seldom have difficulty with this form of movement. But when considering a conflict with another person then how you move becomes of extreme importance. If your moving leg is suddenly moved aside or restricted in some way then you will lose your balance immediately. Naturally you will not want to provide your opponent with such a wonderful opportunity.
The proper way to do this transition is to place the moving leg in its new location and then slowly (relatively) shift your weight from your loaded leg to your unloaded leg. This allows for a very controlled transition that helps you maintain better balance throughout the movement. It also means that any jostling action that occurs during the transition will be less likely to impact your balance and structural alignment. It should not go unnoticed that there is some risk that if the leg that is fully loaded is attacked in some manner that you could be forced to fall. This is in part why we suggest you never fully lift a moving leg off the ground. This allows you to quickly shift weight onto that leg if the loaded leg is being targeted by your opponent.
As you rotate around your mother line you must make changes to your structural alignment or you will be at increased risk for an attack or Nage. This can often be done by rotating the feet. So, as your center turns, you could rotate your feet so they allow proper structural support below your rotating mother line. However, this is thinking about the issue backwards. What should occur is that you rotate your feet (your base) so that a rotation of your mother line must occur to maintain structural integrity. In other words, these types of rotations are initiated by your legs and feet, not by your torso. This ensures you always remain in good structural alignment during a rotation.
Practice this by adopting a stance (perhaps Sochin Dachi) and then placing your hands in a guard position along your center line. Without rotating the trunk of your body (your mother line) in any way, alternately rotate on the ball or toe of each foot. Notice how your hands and therefore your center line moves. Also notice how stable you are during these movements. In addition, notice that these rotations can be made to occur very quickly. This enables you to make fast, accurate, and fully stabilized movements with little or no effort on your part. You maintain movement in a small circle. Your opponent is forced to follow a larger diameter circle.
Move the Body, not the Hands
You will notice from the above exercise that your hands move significantly as you make even a modest adjustment to your feet. Your hands remain in your center, but they move relative to your opponent (and the world around you) with little effort. You have not applied any energy to the arms to cause their movement. This movement is also very fast and your hands will not be moved out of your center. When possible you should move your hands in this manner. You remain well guarded, keep your hands centered, maintain good structural integrity, and can move your hands to check, block, throw, or strike in very little time.
This movement method works well when you are in close with someone striking at you. Keeping your hands in a stationary guard position allows you to then move to block strikes simply by rotating your center a little to the left or right. You can block very quickly this way. You also maintain excellent vision. At any moment you may spot an opportunity and what might have been a block can immediately become a strike, parry, or some form of manipulation. Try to work with a training partner to see how easily this simple back and forth movement can occur. Be very dogmatic when practicing about not moving your hands. Use a simple rotation of your center to support the blocking action.
When In Doubt, Move
A common point of confusion that most students experience occurs when they are not sure what they should do next. They perform a series of movements but eventually reach a point where they are not sure what action should follow. At this point students often freeze. This naturally makes them vulnerable to a counter attack of some kind.
There is a very simple solution to this problem. Simply move. How you move is almost never that relevant. What is critical is that you make some movement that either impacts your opponent’s structural alignment, places you in a better location, initiates an escape, or rotates your opponent’s center. But which of these should you do, you ask? It doesn’t matter and you won’t know which is best. There is no best. You will not know what you will do until you move somehow. The movement represents both opportunity and a reduction in risk. You reduce the risk by not standing stationary while your opponent contemplates how to defeat you. You have an opportunity that will arise after you have moved. That is correct. The movement itself may do little. But it will offer you an idea of what you might do next after you have initiated the movement.
With experience you will come to appreciate that both the movement itself and your opportunities afforded by the movement are both very beneficial.
So the bottom line is never remain stationary. Move constantly. When in doubt about what to do next, simply move. You might move around your mother line, move a leg, perform a stepping pattern, or simply extend or contract an arm. Any movement works as long as it changes the relative structures of yourself and your opponent. Move to create opportunity. When you have doubt about what to do next, move. You will be delighted by the outcome.
Stances are Transitory
You should consider all stances to be transitory. You never hold a stance for more than a mere moment when in a conflict. If you do then you are essentially a sitting target. Stances are seldom used as an offensive or defensive action on their own. They are always part of some other larger purpose; perhaps a throw, a strike, or an escape. Once that purpose has been accomplished the current stance is no longer relevant. Now either a new purpose must be devised for the current stance, or a different stance must be adopted for the next intended purpose.
Practice transitioning from one stance to another as part of a series of different purposes. Kata are good for this type of training, provided you do a Kata in a martial manner. This means that you do the Kata (or portions of it) as though it were an actual conflict. You must therefore have some well-defined Bunkai in mind and then perform a sequence of movements with speed and intent indicative of a battle scenario. This is one of the great many training options afforded by Kata.
Walking Without Shifting Centers
When a person walks normally down the street you will notice that their center shifts subtly from side to side as they walk. Their shoulders rotate slightly from side to side and their hips move accordingly. This is perfectly appropriate. It is how humans walk when they intend to cover some distance.
But in a conflict this is less than advantageous. The primary issue is that your center is moving all over the place and is not focused on your opponent or your intended direction of action. This means you could be caught slightly out of position should your opponent make a sudden or unexpected movement.
To ensure your center remains properly focused while moving you will want to learn how to walk somewhat differently. This is usually done by using a C-step or V-step pattern. The back leg swings inward as it travels up under your torso, and then moves outward again as it extends forward to its destination. The leg essential scribes the letter C or V on the floor throughout the course of its travels. This allows your center to remain fixated directly ahead. This is the general stepping procedure you should practice in Kata, especially if the Kata has you moving forward and striking an opponent. You will want to keep your center aligned along the central plane throughout the striking sequence. Keeping the moving foot in contact with the ground at all times is also an essential aspect of such movements.
Laddering involves moving closer to an opponent in a step-by-step manner. It is usually not done slowly. The most common way in which this is done is to use your front hand to pull your opponent’s front hand (guard) downward slightly. Your back hand then helps pull the opponent’s front hand down and inward further as your front hand now moves on to another task. This task might be an Atemi, Nage, or some additional form of manipulation.
The two hands move rapidly in a circular motion. A common application is to pull the opponent’s front guard down using the front and then the back hand and immediately circle the front hand forward in something like an Uraken Tsuki. Any number of actions are possible using this concept.
The concept is also used when dealing with a weapon like the Jo (but not so much with a Katana). If someone strikes at you with a Jo Tsuki, avoid the strike and grasp the weapon somewhat forward of the nearest end with your back hand. Now, while still holding the weapon with your back hand, grasp the weapon between your opponent’s two hands with your front hand. Now transfer your back hand so it is adjacent to your front hand. Release your front hand, and in a circular manner, initiate Atemi or Nage or some other action. The laddering action of the hands helps to stabilize the weapon, afford you an avenue of approach to your opponent, and pull your opponent out of structure, all in under a second. This works whether you have moved to the nose or face side of the opponent. Just be sure you place your back hand out of harm’s way initially so it is not struck by the Tsuki.