Listening to the feet

In the last post I discussed the wide range of motion possible at the foot/ankle comlex of humans. This is derived from the mobility achieved from the 28 bones, comprising 25 joints, contained within this essential yet underused boday part.

That last asertion might sound a bit daft but it’s not made without foundation. Of course, we use our feet everyday, even the laziest of us has to walk about a bit, thereby rendering feet essential but are feet underused?

Maybe not underused in terms of getting about but definitely in terms of optimising the full potential of the foot/ankle structures. That IS confusing, I’ll elaborate.

After many years of karate training I underused my feet as the training tends to ignore the concept of ‘rooting’ in anything more than a perfunctuary manner. Not universally true but genarally so. By the time a karateka is curious about the softer side of things he/she can have some difficulty in learning to ‘access’ their feet. Particularly if the curiosity leads to the interal arts the terminology can be confusing let alone the concept itself.

I first came across this side of things on a small sanchin session with Mike Clarke in Southampton. One thing he demonstrated then taught us was how to  drop our weight using the structure of sanchin stance. This leaves you very solid in your stance. Involving what I call ‘fat, flat feet’ this sinking of the wieght increases the surface area of the foot in contat with the ground and so improves stability.

Trouble is solidity without mobility is errr, limited! It was a long time before I was able to manage both. The process of managing both invovles ‘listening’ as the Chinese arts call it, or, and a little more up my street, becoming tuned to the kinaesthetics of the foot. This means you need to become consciusly aware of whats happening in the foot as you move. Not consciously interferring with whats going on, but just observing.

I used to travel to courses in Kent which covered this sort of thing. On the way back I’d need to go through London and the Tube was a good place to ‘listen’. Bounding up steps to ground level or riding out the bumps between stations was great practice.

Steve Morris mentions walking as a great way to get a grip on the kinaesthetics of the feet, and other joints for that matter. It’s a very useful method for discovering various movements possible at the foot and ankle and how these effect the efficiency of walking. How changing foot position alters how you push off from the floor and at what angle. How you use the foot to stop or adjust to avoid an unseen obstacle. All this and more helps you to be aware of  and then attempt to optimise whats happening. It’s a very useful process.

diagram from Queens University

human gait cycle

Quite recently, Steve Morris showed us the importance of the roll across the joints at the ball of the foot and the importance of that in normal gait. It was striking that none of us were using this natural part of the gait cycle to its optimum. This will be elaborated on in the next post……

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5 thoughts on “Listening to the feet

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Listening to the feet « EPIC martial arts Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Dropping the weight really helps with power. Over dropping causes that, what you called limited mobility. You kind of have to stay in that middle mode on the ball of your foot and use the momentum of your hips.
    I had an instructor say one time that you need to mimic the motion of an attacking tiger. Bend you legs like a tiger does and you will develop a power to take down larger opponents. I kind of liked that idea.

  3. If you bend at the knees the leg is ‘active’ or engaged, in fighting gravity. This means your more like a coiled spring than a floppy one or back on your heels when nothing is active.

  4. I was at a brilliant yoga seminar last weekend with Gary Carter. It was all about the foot, its structure and the way we walk. He showed us various exercises to help increase the foot’s mobility and flexibility, starting with the toes. Try sticking your fingers between their corresponding toes for a start, or lacing the two sets of toes together. Finally, kneeling with your toes tucked underneath you. All great ways to improve the joints and ward off future arthritis, from which are all likely to be suffering because we dont use our toes properly.

  5. KB – foot health is a good idea as is using them to their potential otherwise they end up as just big lumps like something a robot might have!

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