Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's all in the footwork

All martial arts emphasise footwork. For some, it's incredibly prominent and obvious, like the acrobatic leaps of Northern Shaolin or the low stances of certain kinds of Silat. In others, it's more subtle but nonetheless of primary importance. Aikido is not one art that one thinks about when the phrase 'dynamic footwork' is mentioned. They look like they hardly move, and even when they do, it looks more like a slight turn of the feet.

However, it is said that footwork is of such significance that it forms the main reason for the wearing of the 'hakama', which is intended to disguise the movements of the feet from the opponent. This is even more surprising given that there are no kicks in Aikido so one's opponent is not likely to be even looking at that area of the body

The detail is in the subtletly. The ancient masters knew that without the methodology of learning how to move, walk or balance; the fight might be over, and consequently, probably their lives. It was all in the footwork. Once mastered, it meant that you could move out of the way of an attack rather than block it, which was more inefficient. Also, it enabled you to deliver a counter attack. Learning how to balance also protected you from being swept, or thrown to the ground; all of which were fight enders in those (and also these) days. No one wanted to get swept and be at the mercy of an enemy who was not only standing, but who had a sword or knife as well.

It is why much time is spent learning how to maintain one's balance in Judo. It is interesting that in old Judo schools, the first techniques they leart are ashi-waza's, or foot sweep techniques. Modern schools teach the big throws first because techniques these score at competitions. However, this is done often at the expense of a reality outside the sporting arena, which means that that huge drop seio which scores and Ippon is likely to get your knew busted in the streets and have your assailant behind ready to brain you.

Learning how to keep your balance first, and then working on unbalancing your opponent while doing so gives you a huge tactical advantage in the street. It also works on the mats in a sporting context but the impact is less rewarding in terms of a point scoring system. Personally, I would prefer the old approach. Judo is more than winning medals. And these will cease anyway as you get older.

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