Learning to Walk

I had trained in karate for over 9 years and thought as a black belt I had reached a senior level of understanding. But after just 6 months of practising Shindo Musu-ryu Jodo, my teacher said to me: “You do not know how to walk properly – you are walking on your heels!”.

So”  I thought. “doesn’t everybody?”

It took me some years to understand that Japanese martial artists don’t, and many more years to learn to walk the way they do.

I recently came across a similar story, told far more graphically by C. W. Nicol in his book “Moving Zen“. In 1962, as a young man he had travelled to Japan to study Karate. He immersed himself in Japanese Budo, married a Japanese girl, learnt the language and was learning about Japanese customs. He told this story:

My mother-in-law had bought me Japanese formal dress, and with great patience and peals of laughter from my wife, she had taught me how to wear it properly, and how to tie the complicated folded bow that brought the long tapes of the skirt-like “hakama” together. Resplendent in this dress, feeling very dignified, I went out to visit my friend Ikeda, and walked along the little lanes, enjoying the crisp coldness of the winter air, the chattering of jays, wind tugging at a scarecrow in a field, high lenticular clouds swimming like fish over the Kanto plain.

At my friend’s house, his wife served green tea and sweet cakes, and we shared a small flagon of sake. He too was in formal dress, and we posed together for a photograph in front of the ancient farm house. As we went back into the house he noticed that mud was spattered up the back of my hakama.

“See what you have done! This is because you are not walking from the hips, like this!” He demonstratcd thc gliding walk that is so different from the bobbing swagger of the Westerner. As I walked, the heels of my “zori” had flipped mud up my back. Damn it, I couldn’t even walk right! I would have to practice. Under Ikeda’s tuition I began to learn how the samurai walked, balance always under fine control, gliding from the hips.