Jun
24

“Aikido and Feet,” by Bartłomiej Gajowiec

“Human feet are a part of a whole self-coordinating
system of body balance and stability.”

Feet are our body’s supporting elements. A close look at them will reveal the whole genius of Mother Nature: elasticity and endurance. Hardness and softness. The rear part of your foot is a supporting part that bears body weight and load and distributes it on the ground along with the front part of the foot. Feet are also one of the transverse structures of human body. This means they are not parallel to most of the body’s longitudinal elements (blood vessels, limbs, trunk, lymphatic channels, long muscles…), but transverse to them and strongly change the function of body in the case of any reflectoric and structural changes.

The feet and two-storey buildings are alike: the joints connecting the foot and tibia bone are the first floor, and the foot itself is the ground floor. The same is the case for the posterior and anterior part of the foot.

The feet are connected to the calves with ankle ( tibio-tarsal hinge joint), “it controls the movement of the leg relative to the foot in the sagittal plane. Those movements are essential for walking on flat and rough ground.” (I. Kapanji). Inherent movements within every joint are so called “joint play movements,” passive movements that are basic physiological normal movements along every single axis possible, and in all planes that are built-in the joint construction. With strong short ligaments surrounding the whole complex, the feet do accommodate regular and irregular ground demands.

Foot bones look like bulky blocks running tightly along arches and long bones of the forefoot with small but springy finger and toe bones. They are “passive” supporting factors as well as ligaments and joint capsules. The foot is surrounded with thin but strong tendons of long muscles that run along fibrous tunnels in its dorsal and plantar side. With short and strong interosseus and lumbrical muscles and plantar muscles. And – of course – the Achilles tendon transmiting triceps muscle strength to the foot – it is a highly moveable and mobile part of our body, works under heavy loads and responds to very extreme demands of fast movements, rapid changes of directions and the decelerating of high speed (i.e. running).

When looking from below, we can easily see an architectural structure of a vault. Its top is displaced posteriorly to the main weight-bearing part. All three arches work as a shock absorber, essential for gait purposes, mobility purposes and support in standing. With any impairments of that perfect shape, they slowly but constantly interfere with the body function, maintenance of erect posture and other symptoms popping out somewhere distant from feet themselves. When thinking of the theoretical centre of each foot, it goes up and down with every step we take; it moves side to side in all three dimensions predicted by Nature. The foot widens and flattens, then returns to its form again. We use our feet imperceptibly – out of our control. We do not think of them when walking, running or exercising. We put them here and there and allow them do their job well.

The feet have thousands of nerve endings immersed in all tissues. Thanks to their incalculable numbers, your brain receives constant data inflow and can smoothly respond to them in the whole body action to keep the feet in the most convenient conditions for work.

From the aikido point of view, the feet do matter a great deal. Their indisputably significant role is reflected in every step we take in aiki techniques. They direct our body positions, turning us towards the next stage of the technique. The angle between the feet determines our stability. The feet must not hinder the ease of movement, and are designed follow the natural body awareness. The feet do read the ground. They are the very first to touch the earth. They guide the hips through their complex world.

Barefoot movements of aiki classes stimulate the feet well enough to keep them alive, strong and durable. The more care we concentrate upon our feet, the more reflex inflow we send to the internal organs as well. Reflex spots corresponding with all inner organs are all over feet. They have been known and appreciated for centuries and used as basic knowledge in foot massage therapy of different types.

Human feet are a part of a whole self-coordinating system of body balance and stability. The lack of any parts of that complex results immediately in the instability of the system and an urgent need of repairs. Foot injury or trauma does not make your dojo activity easier and takes time to accomodate and heal. That does not mean quitting aikido classes at all (if possible, of course). The reasonable and wise teacher will show you the path to walk to avoid unnecessary pain or discomfort. If any injury results in constant disability, we come to the point of discussion of how to practice aikido in its physical aspects. Because – what is obvious to very many of us – aikido does not mean only physical exercises and – what many of us know – above all it is NOT the physical acivity itself. The feet walk with us through our good and bad days, through our days of light and darkness. They take our aikido with us to other people.

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