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"Shape" of Footsteps

I began the study of Shorin-Ryu as a student of Matsubayashi-Ryu in the 1970's. Naturally, I read, read, and re-read The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do (1976) by Matsubayashi-Ryu founder Shoshin Nagamine. I still use the book as a reference.

On pages 21 through 24 of the book (I am looking at a first edition, in English), there is a discussion about Shuri-Te and Naha-Te. One aspect of this discussion has troubled me for some time.

On page 23, there is a diagram showing the stepping patterns of Matsubayashi-Ryu (Shuri-te) and Goju-Ryu (Naha-te). The Matsubayashi-Ryu steps appear to be on a straight line. From shizentai dachi (natural stance), the student would step forward in a straight line.

The Goju-Ryu steps (in sanchin dachi), in contrast, are curved. Nagamine Sensei wrote: "Unlike the movements in Shuri-te, the feet travel rather slowly on a crescent-shaped line." Page 22.

Traditionally in Matsubayashi-Ryu, there is a fist's width between the line of the heels in shinzentai dachi. As one steps (on a straight line), this width is maintained -- creating an opening between the legs of a fist's width. This is plenty of room for a kick to the groin.

When I started to learn the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu, one thing I was taught right away was that the feet should arc while stepping, somewhat like the Goju-Ryu steps. I was a little confused -- the crescent shaped step was Goju-Ryu (Naha-te), not Shorin-Ryu. (Note: I should explain that by "arc" I mean that the back foot moves toward the front foot and then forward to the final position. It arcs or zigzags, depending on how you do it.)

This "bothered" me for a few years. Only recently have I realized that the arc, while there, might be reduced until it is almost a straight line. When there is a fist's width (or more) between the heels, the arc will be noticeable. But when the body is in hanmi (slanted), it is more natural to have less space between the heels. Actually, the heels are almost on the same line. In this orientation, the movement of the feet while stepping is more like a straight line. See: Posts Regarding Hanmi.

Because we overload our front foot and "pull" or "drag" the back foot as we step forward, we tend to pull the back foot toward the front (load bearing) foot. The wider the stance, the more it will travel in an arc. However, the narrower the stance (width wise), the more it will seem to travel in a straight line.

This differs from the illustration in Nagamine Sensei's book. So perhaps for Kishaba Juku, we need a new diagram to illustrate stepping.

I should also clarify that we actually do not bring our feet together when we step. It may look like this, but when you bring your feet together, you create a "dead" moment. At this moment, your balance becomes fixed and you cannot move freely. Actually, the feet come close, but not quite together. For some students, their thighs will touch before their feet could.

Of course, there are many ways to move and to step. It all depends on what you are seeking to accomplish. But our general way of stepping is in an arc. The curvature of the arc will vary depending on the horizontal width of the stance.

So do we step like Goju-Ryu? Not at all! The fact that both methods feature a crescent or arc is, I think, a coincidence. The mechanics are, in my opinion, completely different.


Charles C. Goodin