As a frequent blog reader myself, I understand the certain expectation that the blog writer would be an expert on the topic they are writing about. I get that. So, before I speak to why your footwork is important, especially in a Martial Arts context, I need to share something: I know very little about the Martial Arts. I’ve been training for a year now and currently stand as an Orange belt, two levels up from White (the first belt) and several below Black. A year sounds like a long time, but when you think about it, in relation to my own 24 years on Earth, or in the context of an ancient art like Jiu Jitsu, a year is barely anything – a fraction in the face of centuries. Further, I don’t even train in the same way our ancestors did – daily, nightly, devoted to training and learning and nothing else. It wasn’t a hobby or part of an exercise routine for them. It was life. Essential and necessary and constant, like breathing. I personally go to class 4-5 times a week for 2 hours or so. 10 hours a week. That’s not even a full day.
Attempting to explain anything about Jiu Jitsu feels like giving a presentation on a math equation to an audience with Albert Einstein in the front row or giving Abraham Lincoln a pep talk. I am acutely aware of how little I know, especially in relation to the masters and gurus of the Art. However, it’s also important for me to say this: realizing how little I know was the first and most important step of my training. It took me at least 100 classes to finally realize that I didn’t know everything. The acceptance of how much I still need to learn, or rather, still have the honor of learning, changes everything I know about this Art. About life.
All of this is to say that I do not consider myself an expert on Jiu Jitsu in any way. I am still learning. Here’s what I do know so far.
Your footwork is important because it is the beginning of everything – every move, every technique, every form. The term “footwork” brings to mind technical ideas – placement, kicks, posture. While these are all true and relevant, the physical movements only represent one element of the art – the external. And Jiu Jitsu is two parts, at least: external and internal. The real work of footwork, the important part, is internal.
Your footwork is important because it requires you to make the decision to move forward.
The first step is the most important in anything. You’ve heard that before. It’s a simple concept, but hardly easy. What is easy is remaining stagnant. It’s easy to get stuck, scared, and stressed. It’s easy to quit. When you’re training, you’re out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself in new ways. You tell yourself, I know how to walk; I’ve been doing it since I was a baby. I know how to punch, I know how to kick. I know this. Then you witness your sensei demonstrating an intricate technique that he explains as, “just stepping forward” and suddenly you realize that you might not know how to walk after all. The Martial Arts makes everything new. It’s scary, humbling, and refreshing.
I know this to be true because it happened to me. I came to class a year ago with a huge fear of failure and a burning need to change my life. The latter truth eventually outshined the former as I learned the desire to change and grow was the antidote to the fear of embarrassing myself. Training in the Martial Arts will change your life, if you let it. But you can’t change until you decide to change. You can’t apply a technique without first stepping forward.
Your footwork is important because it is a decision. It’s a commitment. “I will move forward.” Your footwork is your foundation, externally speaking. The stance you use – horse, forward, cat, how you move in relation to your opponent, all of it begins with your feet. Eventually, you train to a point where your body moves in unison, a symphony of movement where arms move in tandem with legs, all from the core – but that’s a discussion for another day and heard from another student, more knowledgeable than me. For now, I can tell you this: your footwork is important because it is the physical expression of an internal decision. You to decide to move forward, and so you do.