Guang Ping taijiquan teacher Valarie Gabel from Laguna, CA asked some taiji teachers where they focus their weight in their feet. She’ll be doing a presentation at the annual Guang Ping Yang Conference.
Where do you put your weight in your foot? This question is as important as it is complex. There are 26 bones in each foot and each of them contributes something. Where to start? I’ve given this question a lot of thought over the years, and I’ve tested a bunch of theories. We can start by saying that it varies depending on what you are doing. My taijiquan footwork is very different from my bagua and xingyi. Yang style taiji differs from Chen. But my Yang style is closest to my walking down the street style, so let’s focus on that.
It is easiest to examine with single-weighted postures like “White Crane” and “Play Guitar.” If you don’t (can’t?) root well on one foot, then these positions are empty, regardless of how graceful you appear. We’re not talking ‘balance’ here, but energetically connecting with the earth. (If that notion sounds preposterous to you, please check out my YouTube videos for some demonstrations.)
How you align your body weight over your foot has a lot to do with how well you root. Ideally, we find a “sweet spot” called central equilibrium, which opens energy gates to connect to the Big Qi. (See earlier posts where I discuss CE: Zhongding: Finding Your Central Equilibrium, Central Equilibrium-Part One, Central Equilibrium-Part Two)
Most of us learn to stand and walk when we are about a year old, give or take a few months. We balance over our heels because that is the most stable form, given our leg and foot strength at the time. Decades later we still do the same thing, but now we’ve packed on a few pounds. That old program feels so ‘natural,’ but really it is just habit. Its not the best way to stand, but it certainly is the most familiar.
When your center of gravity is over your heels, that means a big chunk of you is leaning backwards, requiring lots of muscle strain to keep you upright. Over time this can result in backache, disk damage, sciatic pain, joint erosion, etc.
For us internal artists it chokes off your qi flow. You can’t feel your energetic connection to the earth (root) because it is just a trickle. You then have to use all kinds of tricks to fake a root. Much easier to bring your COG forward to the ball of your foot, near the “Bubbling Well” point (K-1). Athletes will remember their coaches telling them to “get on the balls of your feet”. A boxer on his heels is a tomato can. Check out the footwork of the young Cassius Clay. I believe those jabs took such a toll on his opponents because of the jin he generated due to his central equilibrium.
You want to center over the balls of your feet rather than the heels.
Your weight will distribute throughout the surface of your foot. There are three arches that help with that. But where you start matters. If you begin at the ball, you are getting warm. You can fine tune that by shifting medially to the big toe line. Your medial longitudinal arch is designed to handle the big loads. And that is where the big bones are. The two lateral metatarsals are not built for heavy lifting. So if you anchor medially on that big metatarsal and let the load distribute from there, you will feel the most support and responsiveness.
More important, though, is that it opens the energy gate at K-1. If you then press down with your big toe, well…BOOM…fireworks. None of that happens, though, unless you do this consciously.
You must meet the earth with your foot, then build your structure on top of it…without releasing that energetic connection.
This means finding central equilibrium again and again. Finding that “sweet spot” like it matters. So, it’s as much a matter of intention as it is structure. Insubstantial and substantial complementing each other.
The principle holds in other postures, You have to experiment to find the “sweet spot.” Meet the earth with the ball of your foot first, then set your knee over it. When you have established a stable foundation you can then use your kua to generate power or neutralize incoming force. Ball-Knee-Kua. Without that firm structure underneath, the kua won’t relax enough to do what it needs to do.