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Pivot on the Ball

One of the characteristics of our style of Shorin-Ryu is that we only pivot on the balls of our feet -- we do not pivot on our heels.

The first kata in which this is noticeable is Fukyugata Ichi. In the first movement, the left foot moves to the left, and when setting into Zenkutsu Dachi, the right foot pivots on the ball of the foot -- the heel thrusts back. It is very noticeable when a student incorrectly pivots on their heel because this makes the front of the their foot pivot forward in an arch -- it sort of flaps.

In the second movement of the kata, we step forward with our right foot and our left foot (which had been the foreward foot in Zenkutsu Dachi) pivots on the ball of the foot into Shizentai Dachi. Again, it would not be correct for the student to pivot on the heel of the left foot.

I think that there are two reasons for the ball of the foot pivot. The first is that it gives a firm base. If you pivot on the heel at the moment of contact, your balance could be poor and you could lose your balance. The second reason is that it helps to maintain body compression. Pivoting on the ball of the foot closes the body (particularly the hara) while pivoting on the heel tends to open it.

There is a difference between a preparatory pivot and one at the moment of contact. We tend to pivot on the moment of contact and for this, the ball of the foot is preferrable to the heel. However, if the pivot is before the moment of contact, there may be cases where a pivot on the heel is used to step on or trap the attacker's foot. It is much easier to step on someone's foot when you pivot on your heel.

Of course, the opposite is also true -- sometimes the pivot on the ball of the foot is used to sweep the attacker's foot or leg. The rear leg is usually used for this.

When I practiced Tai Chi, we always pivoted on our heels, with the step on the attacker's foot as the usual explanation. Some styles of Karate also pivot on the heel, sometimes to open the hara.

The use of the ball of the foot or heel to pivot affects the line of the kata. The heel pivots maintains the line while the ball of the foot pivot shifts the line to the inside slightly. This affects weight distribution and lines of attack/avoidance.

At an advanced level, it is possible to move more freely with less reliance on firm footwork (because the body compression is more internal than ground based).

For a beginner, however, we pivot on the balls of our feet.


Charles C. Goodin