The following article is an excerpt from Warrior Fitness: Conditioning for Martial Arts… Enjoy!
Proper walking is footwork training for budo. How we walk in day-to-day life is how we will walk (move) in combat. Efficiency in more complex movement begins with efficiency in simple movements. How can we expect to move with ease in the chaos of a combative environment when most of us have trouble walking with natural gait? Walking is a ubiquitous activity that many people simply take for granted. They move through the day without any awareness of the strain they place on their knees, hips, and lower backs by their poor movement patterns. Just a little awareness will do wonders for your balance, posture, and lightness of step. When Hatsumi Sensei first came to the U.S., of the things he noticed immediately was how heavy and inefficiently people walked. His comment was that most people walked “like Frankenstein”!
1. Stand in shizen no kamae (natural posture) and balance on one leg. Lift the other foot a few inches off the ground and then lower again in a slow, controlled manner using the flexing of the grounded leg to regulate the descent. Gently bounce a few times getting the feeling of how the grounded leg’s flexion and extension controls the lowering of the other foot. The balance on your leg should be such that you are able to lower the opposite foot to the ground in any direction and easily maintain kamae (balance). Switch legs and now balance on the other leg while lowering the foot.
2. Stand in shizen no kamae (natural posture). Use your right hip to lift the right foot off the ground. It will feel strange at first since this is not a very commonly used muscle action, but once you get used to it, it will become an efficient way of lifting the leg. With the right leg lifted, pull back with the right shoulder. Notice how this has the effect of creating a slight torque in the spine and moves the right foot forward at the same time. Release the tension in the spine by placing the right foot down in a forward step. Feel how the release of tension propels the body forward and allow it to create the same lift from the hip and pulling back of the shoulder on the left side.
3. Combine the previous two exercises together and begin to walk.
4. Another idea to try when walking is to alternate periods of normal, regular breathing with holding your breath for duration when “full”, after an inhale, and when “empty”, after an exhale. Try inhaling for a count of 5 (steps or seconds), hold your breath for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, and finally, hold your breath empty for a count of 5 while walking. Repeat as long as you can continue the pace. Note that 5 is just an arbitrary number and can be raised or lowered to suit your own needs. This practice will help you to understand how your body can function during situations when you must suddenly hold your breath yet still continue to work. Another benefit of this exercise is that it also helps the body to process oxygen to brain, heart, and other working muscles more efficiently.
Don’t forget “light feet and soft knees” when walking!