Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Walk - 1 - nanameashi

In typically minimalist redneck fashion, we call the first exercise that we do in aikido "Walking kata" or sometimes just, "The Walk."  This is the exercise that teaches footwork and posture and coordinated body movement.  Most forms of aikido have these sets of taiso, or activity-specific calisthenics or warmups, and they are valuable training.  Ignore the taiso at your own peril.
I thought I'd dissect The Walk over the next few weeks and perhaps throw out there a few hints and comments that some of y'all might not have encountered.
Regarding the first motion - Shomenashi or Nanameashi...
  • The first motion of The Walk is a drop-step in four diagonal directions - forward left, backward right, forward right, and backward left.  By drop-step, I mean that the movement is powered by gravity and the down part of the up-down walking cycle comes first.  We move off the line by picking up a foot and allowing our center of mass to drop out of the way.  Make sure that you do not try to lunge off the line really fast, because this pushes you into the air and makes you float, vulnerable and unstable for a moment.
  • So that you can drop when you pick up a foot, you have pre-position your feet out from under your center of gravity.  If you put both feet together right under your center and pick one up, you just stay put.  So, get your posture and stance right before you try a drop-step.  Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart - narrower makes you slower and lighter, wider makes you more stable but less mobile.  If, during The Walk you notice a time lag between your picking up your leg and your center moving, you might experiment with slightly wider stance.
  • Actually there is some debate and some difference of opinion about whether the steps are directly fore and aft or whether they are stepping diagonally off the line.  In my opinion, off-line is more functional, and when you break it down and go really slow, I think you'll see that it's not even possible to drop-step directly fore or aft because whenever you pick up one foot or the other you get at least a slight vector that direction. You can only drop-step on or near the line that your feet are on.  If you are moving directly forward or backward, you are lunging into the air - not drop stepping.
  • Since your drop-step is powered by gravity, the speed of your drop-step is determined by the length of your leg.  A drop step takes a discrete amount of time, so learn how long that is and learn to live with it so that your subconscious can figure out how to start your drop-step when you have time to do it in your various techniques.
  • You are, however, able to increase the speed of your recovery step, in which you bring your trailing foot back up under you after a drop step.  You pretty much have to figure out how long a drop step takes and live with it, but once you have done a drop step, you don't want to hang out there - you want to recover your step very rapidly, so that you can drop-step again.  So, there is a slooooooow-fast sort of rhythm to the drop-step and recovery.

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Patrick Parker

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