Friday, September 14, 2007

Shall We Dance?

The Aikido Tango

You gotta love this! Harald Ross and assistant Stefan in one of the absolute best Aikido demonstrations I have seen yet. Watching this has given me several new ideas to add to some of our lock-flow drills, as well as some Bagua applications.

Tai Chi Chuan Stepping and Aikido Stepping:
Here is part of an exchange between Pat at Mokuren Dojo and myself from earlier this year:
Hey, dude,
I have a question i've been pondering and I figure youre probably the one to answer it since you apparently know a ton more about Chinese arts than anyone else I have access to.
Why in the Chinese martial arts does it seem that they make a point of stepping down onto the heel first, when in Japanese martial arts they tend to preach to land on the ball of the feet first?
Well, I don't claim to be that expert on Chinese arts, but I have discussed this in the past with my Aikido instructor, Chuck McCarty.
He said the Japanese method of stepping method is do to rigid adherance to the sword arts, and possibly a bouncing mobility as in the way some systems spar. (think Kendo)
Chinese arts use a slightly less mobile root, in my opinion. Even in Bagua, which employs twisting and turning footwork, the foot is generally placed flat or heel first.
Formosa Neijia had a recent blog on how immobile some Taji practitioners are in their defense demonstrations, which is to a fault. I have learned a lot from my somewhat limited Aikido training (two years), and feel that cross-training has really helped my Tai Chi.
So with this in mind, I returned from a seminar with my Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman last Saturday with some more "rooting" information.
When recieving a push or incoming force, we "root" to THE INSIDE of the rear foot, then release, return or discharge energy back through THE OUTSIDE of the rear foot. As you approach weighted root on the front foot, your root goes to THE INSIDE of the front foot. In this fashion, the root will always be in the INSIDE of one foot and the OUTSIDE of the other. Furthermore, another thing that was made evident is that the Aikido "hanmi" or basic stance is much narrower than the Tai Chi Chuan root. Much more like "walking a rail". This works for Aikido's rapid stepping patterns, (and sword technique) but not for more rooted things like push hands or close grappling.
Moving through the form and push hands with this new rooting technique (which he has been trying to get us to grasp for the last three seminars) has given us a new, deeper level to practice at.
Anybody have other ideas?


uchi deshi said...

I took your advice.

Dojo Rat said...

Ah, yes Tristan's Bucket. I love it!
Keep it going man, you are fortunate to have such an exceptional life experiance with the Dojo.
John @ Dojo Rat

JoseFreitas said...

Hi everyone

Well, I'll take exception and be the Devil's advocate here. No, I do not think that the Chinese arts use only, or even primarily heel-toe stepping. Yes, Taiji does primarily, and yes Bagua uses it also, but this is by no means a rule. Just look at Xingyi or Six Harmonies Praying Mantis, where you’d be hard pressed to find even one example of heel toe stepping (well, there are, but less than 10% probably). I will differ to higher authorities if needed, I’m only an enthusiastic dilettante, but I also think there are pretty good reasons to practice heel toe stepping. More on that below.

Also, Bagua does not use only heel toe stepping or mud wading stepping. On could even make a point, given the insistence on the toes gripping the ground, that mud wading stepping could be used with a toes first stepping pattern (not really, but you get the point). But these are only training methods. In the linear drills, it’s hard to find heel toe stepping. Of the four different teachers who taught me Bagua, only one did not teach linear jump stepping patterns – and this admittedly because he doesn’t teach a complete Bagua curriculum, only a couple of things as a supplement to Xingyi. Most teachers show many different patterns, using toes first jump stepping. Even some famous forms use this. The Original Form of Jiang Rong Qiao uses Mud Wading steps when doing the circle but once you initiate a palm change, jump stepping and toes firt makes up a good 50% or even more. Look at the 36 Songs and 48 Sayings, they strongly make the case that toes first jumping steps are the key to mobility and speed. Liu Dekuan’s 64 Straight Line Palms is 80% toes first stepping. And so on, I could go on for hours.

Having said this, and admitting that Taiji does in fact use 90% heel toe stepping, there are strong reasons to do so. Here are a few, in my opinion:

It’s very hard to train jump stepping in slow motion. This seems like a stupid and simplistic reason, but think about it. I had a ton of problems initially with Xingyi because it’s impossible to slow down the performance of forms and still keep the origin of the power. Taiji uses slowness and total awareness of weight transfer to teach generation of internal power. Xingyi clearly separates things and sends part of this training to immobile stance work. In Taiji you issue most of your power when your base is immobile, in Xingyi power generally comes from the sudden explosive transfer of weight forward (or backward). These are generalizations, and things always exist on a continuum, but that’s how I see things.

The other aspect of heel toe stepping, which is very apparent in Bagua, is this: heel toe stepping is the key to leg and foot trapping and stomping or locking. I am not sure you guys have ever been to an Uncle Bill seminar, or had a good Bagua teacher demo apps on you. No application is ever made without using the feet on the opponent. To train this you do heel toe stepping, with the famous toe in and toe out stepping, which are also hidden kicking techniques. Heel toe stepping is also good for ankle flexibility and strength, which is important in foot locking apps.

Allt his does not exist in Aikido or ither Japanese sword fighting derived arts, so no need to train this is felt.

My 2 cents euro, which is fast becoming 3 cents USD.

See you!

Patrick Parker said...

Jose, thanks for that perspective! That's something about CMA that I'd wondered about for years then finally asked DR because I figured he might have access to someone with an answer. I'll have to think about those things for a while and play with them. thanks

JoseFreitas said...

Patrick, here is a video of the Five Elements of Xingyi done really well. This kind of stepping pattern is found throughout Bagua also, but it's complemented by the bheel toe stepping patterns.

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks Jose, very detailed.