Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
With regard to the gait during combat, irrespective of whether you make big or small, quick or slow steps, the accustomed gait should be adhered to. Such unreliable specific ways of walking as flowing, gliding, stamping, creeping as well as forwards or backwards gait are all to be avoided. However difficult the ground may be, you should tread confidently. This will become more understandable later.
It is to be hoped that it will become more understandable later, but 300 years later and I’m still trying to figure out what Musashi wants us to do in the matter of footwork.
If we go to the Go Rin no Sho and look at this article in the Water Scroll as translated by Tokitsu (the translation I’ve got handy) we see that Musashi says we should slightly raise our toes and push off our feet from the heel, forcefully.
Umm. What? I will absolutely bet good money that Musashi doesn’t want us to go around walking on our heels. Everything that I know from studying his kata says that we want to get the other guy on his heels and we then want to run him backward until he accelerates into something at which point we will hit him.
How about we slightly raise ONTO the toes and push off using (through) the heel (as opposed to the side of the foot). Now you have the kendo way and also the usual way we walk around. If you walk with good posture as directed in number 4, your hips will be square which means your feet will be parallal which means you will walk by rising up onto your toes and pushing through the heel.
On the other hand, I’ve heard folks talk about walking as one would in the Noh drama, there you do lift up those toes, then pull them upward to lift the entire foot at once, and place it back down all at once. I have been informed that this is the correct way to walk outside, on rocky surfaces and whatnot, that the sliding movements we use in the dojo are artificial and will cause us to trip and fall outside.
My response is to ask how one walks in one’s house at night in the dark when one has small children with sharp toys. Does one lift one’s bare feet and drop then onto the floor or does one slide them along, feeling for those toys and pushing them out of the way.
As for our usual footwork in the dojo, Ide sensei taught us several years ago to grip the floor not with the toes, but to lift them slightly and to grip with the area just behind the toes. This keeps the heel down and the calf muscles activated so that you can push forward instantly at any time. You will not have to drop back onto the calf and then push off.
And again, Ohmi sensei taught that we ought to walk as if we are on a rotten bridge, keeping the foot close to the planks and putting the entire foot down at once, testing the boards to see if they will take our weight.
All of this is the opposite of swinging the foot high and landing on our front heel with our front knee extended. As Canadians who have to walk on ice for most of the year we get this, dropping that heel down is asking for a groin pull. We “skate”, we “slide step” we walk normally by keeping out feet close enough that we can stop or start instantly and we rarely slip or lose our balance. This is my normal way of walking and I’ll stick to it. By keeping my feet under me I experienced the most surreal fall ever. I stepped down onto the steps from my deck to the ground at my cottage and those steps gave way. I simply stood upright and rode the top step from it’s normal position to the edge as I fell four feet and stopped, still upright, wondering about the strange elevator ride.
In the Niten Ichiryu as we practice it today we walk normally, right foot in front of left, left in front of right, in our normal gait as we approach our opponent. Once we engage we move whichever foot forward that makes sense, if the left is moving forward when we come in range, we slide forward or diagonally with the left foot to counter. If the right, we move that way. There is no jumping or other strange movement, just “walk in and kill him” as I often mutter.
Once we are in cutting range we use a right-left, left-right pattern, drive the front foot in and follow with the rear. This we will come to in article 16 so we will say no more here.
This article doesn’t say much more about gait than “the accustomed gait should be adhered to”. The rest of this discussion has been in relation to the more detailed article from the Go Rin no Sho (Water 5 and Wind 7).
I know what Musashi does not want us to do, he doesn’t want us to float, crab, leap, jump or any other adjective we can come up with to describe fancy footwork. If we are stutter stepping around, trying to get into position to do some special step or other, we are not concentrating on cutting the opponent. If we jump into the air we cannot adjust our trajectory. If we are trying to move very quickly it may work in the dojo but will it work in a swamp? In fact, does any step except our usual slog work in a swamp?
As with our posture, it is best if we simply use our normal way of getting from point A to point B.