Dancing in the Streets by John Henderson
The emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown.
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
T S Eliot, Ash Wednesday
Much of our early work was getting me to pose simply with the one point in mind. I would get up on my one foot and cock my bat, all the while remaining conscious of this energy center in my lower abdomen.
What is the best way to turn? On the ball of your foot? Or on your heel?
It is a simple question. But it's a very good question. It can get some heated replies. In fact the answer is complex and subtle.
Kobudo - old martial arts - often use the heels to turn. Turning on your heels keeps your centre fixed and stable. It is easy to change direction without altering the position of your centre and thus your balance. Any movement using the balls of the feet automatically makes an adjustment to your centre line. And in traditional kenjutsu any movement that disturbed the centre was unacceptable. One side benefit of turning with the heels is that it is easier to open your front foot. You can see this in the stances of some traditional styles of aikido.
Gendai budo - modern martial arts - usually use the balls of the feet to turn. Speed, momentum and power are important. And a motionless centre is irrelevant when the centre line is in motion. A judoka turning in fast for a forward throw like seoi nage or uchimata uses the balls of the feet. In karate the toes are very important. Karateka can use the side of the foot or even the whole foot but pivoting movements are mainly done using the balls of the feet.
Turning in aikido depends on the style and on the movement. Irimi entering movements usually use the balls of the feet. The danger is that the front foot can remain closed. And that interferes with turning freely.
In applied aikido techniques the most efficient turn is often made on one leg. The flamingo stance used by Sadaharu Oh, one of the great batters in Japanese baseball history, came from Morihei Ueshiba the founder of aikido.
So the right answer to the original questions about how to turn is, Both. Turn on your heel. Or on the ball of your foot. Whatever is right for that moment.
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels e-book on project gutenberg
T S Eliot, Ash Wednesday online
Cool Mokuren Dojo blog post about Sadaharu Oh and aikido
photo: Dancing in the Streets by John Henderson
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© niall matthews 2012
Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.