Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Helpful handful: The feet in shizentai

Photo courtesy of Toni R.
A lot of people start talking about posture by concentrating on what the neck and shoulders are supposed to be doing. I want to start at the other end - the feet. The largest, most pervasive force that we interact with is the Earth's gravity and, while we usually think of it as pulling downward on our center of mass, we interact directly with the Earth through our legs. If you get your feet and legs interfacing with gravity correctly then the rest of the body will tend to fall into its proper place.
  • In shizentai (natural, upright posture) the feet are less than hip-width apart. The farther apart you get your feet, the greater the tendency to get both of them out from under your center. From this mid-point of shizentai, you want to take small, conservative steps - as small as practical to get the job done.
  • You are weightbearing on the balls of your feet. Specifically, the balls of the first two toes on each foot - the big toe and the next largest toe. These are the longest, strongest bones in the foot and are the only bones in the forefoot that are made for weightbearing. The outer edges of the feet and the heels should be slightly brushing against the ground, helping you to balance over the first two toes of each foot.
  • The feet are turned slightly outward, as is comfortable. The feet tend to turn outward just enough to allow the balls of the first two toes to line up perpendicular to the direction you are facing. It is also important to point each foot in the direction that it's knee bends.
  • The knees are slightly bent so that your knees fall approximately over the balls of your feet. This places your weight forward on the balls of the feet and readies the leg muscles for action.
  • You will notice that when you get your feet and knees positioned right (as above) with respect to the line of gravity then your shoulders and head tend to stack vertically, but if you lock your knees out straight you tend to rest on your heels, your butt sticks out, your shoulders slump, and your head juts forward.
As we are working on posture this month in the dojo, pay attention to what your feet are doing and you'll find that your posture improves accordingly.
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  1. You're describing how to take the position when practicing zhan zhuang, or "stake standing."

  2. Pretty cool, huh? The overlap between styles and ways.

    I tend to think that aikido has part of the picture (plus a little noise) and taiji has part of the picture (plus a little noise), etc... but the intersections set between all these arts and ideas should tend to be close to Truth and relatively noise-free.


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