Friday, January 29, 2010

Chop those happy feet!

Photo courtesy of The Busy Brain
No, this has nothing to do with dancing penguins - I promise. Honestly, I'd never heard of this one before Chad asked me the question a couple of days. Oh, I'd heard the idea before, but never heard it called, "happy feet." The question:
What do you think about happy feet? I mean the idea of keeping your feet moving to stay more mobile... Like tennis players do while they wait for their opponents swing, so that they can better react, or like a running back will while he is getting hit so that he has a better chance of moving forward/recovering... My initial thought was that it would be bad, as unnecessary movement could invite attack, but then I thought it might be similar to the puncher's jab, in that the "steps" you are taking aren't any sort of committed movement, thus less vulnerable than "normal" movement, and then the judoka might share the benefits that the tennis player and running back enjoy...
I think our junior high school football coaches called it chopping, as in, "Keep those feet chopping up and down under your butt!" You also see baseball outfielders do this when they are starting to make a decision which way to move to catch the ball.
I tend to do this in aikido and judo too, but I tend to do it like this... I chop my feet up and down in tiny steps right under my center (it doesn't have to be too obvious or dramatic) until uke enters ma-ai to engage, then I synch my feet to his and keep chopping - only doing it at whatever his frequency is. This does improve mobility - and it helps develop the proper sort of upright, feet-under-center mobility we're looking for. In judo this lends itself to presenting the opponent that legendary "empty jacket" feeling.
I also don't think it invites attack through arbitrary movement so long as you are synched to uke's frequency. Notice in your example of the tennis guy, they don't do happy feet all the time - they chop their feet while waiting for the ball, then as it approaches they get in synch with it and set their feet for a moment to impact the ball properly. I doubt you'll ever see a good tennis player chop continuously at whatever their internal rhythm is all the way through a swing - only when they are waiting. They are using the chop to be more mobile, but also to make synching to the ball easier.
I guess in summary I'd say that chopping, or happy feet, is a valuable idea, but it's just a model for how to do taisabaki and kimusubi (synchronization) in a mobile, flowing, yielding way.
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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