The quality of Kung Fu practice is rising, worldwide. Yet the race is on. The culture of Kung Fu, the meaning and the heart of the art is in danger. The loss of this is not, as some would say, the loss of an impractical, antiquated fighting art no longer valid. Rather it would be equivalent to the loss of a cultural treasure such as Opera, or Painting, Theater or Meditation. Kung Fu culture is the raft upon which 5000 years of practical knowledge, mythic concepts, Shamanism practices and psychological insights rides. It is a code, but not an unbreakable one. The training in this section isn't so much about the movements; we actually assume you already know them. Rather it is a compilation of those "little details" that are the answers loosening the cipher and Unlocking the Form.

Unlocking the Form #2: JUST TAKE A STEP

How basic can you get? I'm probably testing the patience of everyone out there by suggesting we contemplate a typical and fundamental exercise like stepping. But, if you've ever struggled with this or taught it, you realize that not only a journey but also a tumble can start with a single step.

We should realize that nothing here is written in stone. Since these are indeed baby steps this must be kindergarten, right? So relax a little. It's true. ANY step I could chose to explain would send someone up the wall with a "We don't do it that way!" But let's go with this one for a minute.

Be aware that the act of stepping is fraught with danger. A wrestler steps all the time, a boxer never. This is because we mean solely and exclusively in this discussion the act of changing the lead leg. A step or “step through”, is here defined as a full leg action which flips sides such as left to right, or right to left. Shuffles, bumps, replacements, etc. are not our present concern.

Taking a Step

1. Let's assume a toe-heel relationship between the feet ( toe-toe standing will be much the same). In classical training (where we start) the foot rotates outward on the heel pivoting to approximately a 45º angle. For ease of presentation lets assume a right foot behind and a left lead.

KEY POINTS: The Toe Out. This is definitely one of the best ways to introduce this movement and like the Ippon Seoinage in Judo—one of the first throws ever learned—it is also one of those movements no one ever actually uses in real life. The point of toeing out at so early and exactly is to solve the beginner's problem in advance by setting the hips where they are going to land. As the student progresses, the rear foot may well move BEFORE the front one rotates; in effect pushing the front foot out of the way while simultaneously passing through, like the act of pushing open a swinging door as you leave the room. On the other hand, there are cases where the left might actually COMPLETE THE STEP before the front foot pivots. Like spin on a cue ball, first you learn a set method then apply it as you will.

2. (Not shown) The player then brings the rear foot up to (in our present discussion) the mid-point of the step.

KEY POINTS: The mid step. This is also called scissor legs. The inner thighs should brush. No, not to cover the groin at that point but to inscribe a flight path that is of maximum efficiency. In essence this is the mid strike of a running action. Efficiency is king. The knee should aim straight ahead, not match the oblique angle of the front knee (there are exceptions to this).

3. The foot travels forward landing on the heel slightly before the ball.

KEY POINTS: The step. Nothing but trouble. And the odd thing is that the most natural answer is the correct one but everyone does everything but... The reason for so many errors is angular momentum. People allow the rotation of the hips opening the front foot to sully the step. When you walk or run you project your leg straight ahead. Just so in the martial march. The toe should point forward. The heel should fall just a little before the pad (most times). The leg should not swing around in a half circle (your stance is locked and your hips are frozen if this happens). Nor should the left half circle outward. (These are training methods to inculcate Reeling Silk in the legs. They are valid but such coiling doesn't always need to be visible to be real.) The step should proceed from the scissors position onward like an arrow leaving the bow. Also, importantly, the foot must not be turned in anticipating its next position...

4. Then the rear new front foot adducts rotating inward until both feet point in the same direction as parallel as railroad ties tracking off to the North East.

KEY POINTS: The footfall. Now the foot is straight ahead. In some training forms the step has yet to complete, and the ball of the foot is still slightly suspended. In the last micro-instant the foot not only falls, it rotates inward. The stance is now replicated on its obverse. Good job! You've done it.

MORE KEY POINTS: Speaking of that the time between sections three and four, about a nanosecond, is the time allowed for the punch to be launched and to land. That's right, just as the foot falls. This moment of accentuated torque is the same when you hear the squeak of a shoe in the ring as a professional boxer throws a hook. It's in that tiny motion that the power comes. Sudden, explosive torque manifested in a punch.

Advance. Touch. Torque. Steps two and three should fly so straight and so true that if my lead foot is aimed at my partner’s lead and I step forward I should end up executing a leg lock without even trying. What brushes my leg should brush his, too.



Q: Why such a big deal about stepping?
A: The fundamental history of martial arts is about battlefield activity not street fighting. Falling was not something you wanted to do. In some cases you were not allowed the luxury of going to the ground.

Q: Why is everything so formalized?
A: Every art has its basics. Give full contact a few more years and people will be starting with similar patterns. Let me remind you that not every style starts with steps. Some start with movement. Three I can name are PiGua, Bagua and—big surprise—original Okinawan Karate.

Q: What are the key points to remember in general?
A: Regardless of the method of your stepping some points remain. Don't be off balance, especially to the front. Try to keep the spine erect as you move. Touch with the foot then grab the floor. Be natural. Move from the core. See, there's nothing there that's all that strange.

Q: Anything else?
A: Yes, for the sake of honesty I have to mention some obscure areas that influence formal martial stepping. First is the connection to cultural dance, particularly in the case of the straight sword. Second, is the influence of Chinese instructional methods in the written language. The paradigm is: first you learn the strokes, then the order, then the cursive script; stepping is taught in the same order mostly. Lastly, and frankly, some people can barely move and much stepping is just to encourage their locomotion. So a lot of stepping, to be honest, is influenced to some degree by other concerns: cultural and historical. The point is that the KEY issue, mobility, should always be kept in mind and you won't go far wrong.

Beside being the director of Plum Publications, Ted Mancuso is the Head Instructor of the Academy of Martial Arts; Santa Cruz, California. He has been stepping since he was six or seven.









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