May 2008 Archives

Sumo is one of Japan's most ancient traditions; if the members of the professional sumo community aren't able to gracefully maintain and adapt to the modern world, in the context of their own culture and country, what hope do Westerners have of preserving koryu transmissions? I'm not without hope (otherwise I'd never be doing what I do), but realistically, the size of the windmill keeps growing, while my lance keeps getting shorter and my horse punier. But I'll keep dreaming that impossible dream...

You Walk Wrong

I don't know about you, but I don't wear shoes all that often. Having lived in Japan, it's easy to abandon shoes inside the house. Obviously, I don't wear shoes in the dojo. In fact, I never have really liked shoes (it being, admittedly, quite difficult to find shoes to fit my feet properly). Now, after reading Adam Sternbergh's article "You Walk Wrong," I understand better why.

Most beginners come to our dojo--even those with extensive martial arts experience--unable to walk properly. The feet don't connect up through ankles and knees to the hips to allow for a natural stride. Since the best martial arts are all based around using our bipedal body efficiently, this results in a substantial initial roadblock. It simply isn't possible to learn to swing a stick effectively until you have learned to walk.

But why were folks in New Jersey having so many difficulties learning what we all thought we had learned back when we were yearlings? I couldn't recall my fellow students in Japan moving with such awkwardness. I've always attributed their more integrated and centered walking to the fact that many were raised sitting on the floor, which increases joint flexibility and hip strength (it would be interesting to see what the current crop of Japanese koryu students are doing--many young people today are raised in houses with chairs). But I think the prevalence of shoes in our modern Western culture is also part of the puzzle (not that the Japanese would be caught dead barefoot outdoors, but they do spend a lot of time with their shoes off).

So, if you are looking for ways to improve your training and you haven't done any barefoot walking lately, I urge you to try. Pay attention and feel how your foot is connecting with the ground and the motions you go through to keep balanced with one leg striding out in front of the other. You might find yourself wanting to try some of the new shoe types Sternbergh profiles in his article. I know I'll be looking into them!

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