Sunday, January 24, 2016

That First Step is a Doozy

After working on basic stance training (i.e. open stance, empty stance, bow stance, and standing on one leg) for a while, Sifu Wu eventually reckoned that I'd developed enough strength and balance to take a step.

The forward step is comprised of the basic stances. Starting from a bow stance with the left foot in front, the step occurs in 4 stages.
  1. Shift back to an empty stance on the right (back) leg and turn the left (front) leg out to 45 degrees (turning from the waist).
  2. Step forward onto the left (front) leg. Start by putting the left foot down (heel to toe) and shifting the weight forward until it's in the center of the foot. Continue shifting the weight onto the left leg and, as the right (back) leg becomes empty, lift the right foot (from heel to toe) by bending the knee and put the toes of the right foot down just behind and to the right of the left foot.
  3. Step out into an empty stance with the the right (back) leg forward. Start by lifting the right leg (like doing a leg lift but not lifting so high), opening the left hip slightly (to about 45 degrees), and putting the right heel down in front.
  4. Shift forward into a right bow stance. First put right (front) foot down (heel to toe) and expand the knee slightly without opening the hips. Start shifting to the right foot by closing the right knee further and simultaneously straightening your left (back) knee. As you shift forward, your torso should turn from 45 degrees to face front.
You end up in a bow stance on the right side where you can take another step (and another and another ...).

Now this is all very simple but it isn't easy - I keep finding (innovative) ways to do the forward step wrong.

The first problem Sifu Wu pointed out was that I was stepping out too wide in stage 3. The feet should end up about shoulder-width apart in the empty stance but I was stepping wider than that, particularly on the left side. I was also stepping out with different widths on either side so I ended up moving forward diagonally, listing to the left. With practice, I was able to adjust the steps appropriately but, if I don't pay attention, I can still start drifting again.

Narrowing my step has also had the benefit of allowing my step to lengthen naturally. My forward step has always been a bit short and now I understand why that was.

My second problem was in stage 2 of the step. While shifting onto the left (unweighted) leg, I was always unstable. Sifu Wu said that I was 'double-light' - the weight was shifting off of the right (back) leg, making it light but wasn't sinking into the center of the left (front) leg, so it was also light.

There were a couple of issues that were causing this problem. The first issue was that, as I was shifting forward, my shoulders leaned in the direction that I was turning, breaking my structure and throwing off my balance.

The second issue was that, as I was shifting onto the left (front) leg, I was bending my left hip and ankle appropriately but was keeping my left knee stiff, which made the shifting awkward and shifted my weight forward rather than letting it sink into the center of the foot.

I'm still haven't fully resolved these issues but working on them has made my stepping more stable and, as my strength and balance have continued to improve, so has my stepping.

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