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When somebody speaks in a hurried fashion, they sound anxious. If you breath quickly, it feels unhealthy. Now consider how you walk... most likely you walk too fast.
We pay very little attention to how we walk, and seldom think of our feet. Our walk can have a profound effect upon our fitness and how we feel.

Natural action

When you step forwards, the foot peels and then the heel places. When you step backwards, the toe places first and then the heel. It is the natural opening and closing of the foot.


People usually over-reach when they step - they place too much weight in the stepping leg.
This makes you vulnerable and off-balance; it causes the spine to lean forwards and tilts the pelvis unnecessarily. In our tai chi class, the spine must remain upright when you step.
The hip must be allowed to move without affecting your vertical alignment and the stepping leg must have no more weight in it than the weight of the leg itself.
This enables you to retract the stepping foot without first needing to shift your weight.

When standing we should have a sensation of being more in our heels than the front of the foot. However, there should be no tendency to tighten the toes or lift them off the floor. Let the toes lie freely and allow the whole foot to 'soften'. Let the weight go down 'into' the floor so your feel grounded. This gives a firm base from which to think of lengthening upwards. Free your ankles so there is a little sway available to help discover upright balance. In order to enjoy standing without strain we should never get fixed in position.

(Noel Kingsley)


Testing your stride is easy. Lift one leg and let it drop onto the heel as though you were walking forwards.
Now ask somebody to place their foot behind your heel and slide your foot forwards. If you are balanced, your leg should slide away without taking your balance.
If you have too much weight in the foot, you will stumble or lean when they slide your stepping heel. Try taking a shallower step and see if the result changes.

Natural range

When stepping, you need to feel that you leg has lengthened and that the heel has landed without over-commitment.
It is important not to be double-weighted. Feel where your own natural range is. Be comfortable. Do not stride or over-reach.

Feeling feet

Feet are exceptionally sensitive. Your body must interpret a vast quantity of data and respond very rapidly.
Inactivity and neglect can reduce the sensitivity of the feet, as can certain types of shoe that are harmful.
A minor imbalance in how we use the foot can affect the overall fitness of the body, usually in a subtle, indirect fashion.

Improved awareness

The way in which we practice tai chi encourages students to feel more with their feet. Improved foot sense will reduce the likelihood of falling.
Philip Maffetone's book Fix Your Feet is a worthwhile purchase.

Elephant or cat?

New students with Sifu Waller commonly drop deep into the floor and stomp around like an elephant.
If your footsteps are loud, the groundpath is in your feet, not in your hand. Your footsteps need to be as agile and light as those of a cat.
Imagine Kwai Chang Caine (Kung Fu TV series pilot episode) walking on rice paper?

Don't advertise

If your noises advertise your movements, they are way too loud. Noisy footwork and clumsy habits reflect your lack of sensitivity. Slow down. Stop rushing. Let your scattered mind settle.


When you walk quickly, you do not really notice the walk. Our style of tai chi is process-oriented - so the how, the way is most important - we need to be aware of our walking habits.
If you stroll, amble, wander... you cease to put stress upon your body.


You walk as though not heading anywhere. Instead of marching along, you drift and your legs feel to drape like curtains; loose and relaxed, easy and unimpeded by tension.
Pretty soon, you start to feel calmer too.

Look after your feet

Many people don't look after their feet. They have poor sense of balance, dry skin, cracked heels, limited flexibility and exceedingly poor sensitivity.
Invest in your feet. You use them all day long. Slough off the dry skin, massage them, apply cream to keep the skin soft and pliable.
A deliberate, conscious program of foot care will significantly improve foot health.

We walk, and our religion is shown (even to the dullest and most insensitive person) in how we walk. Or to put it more accurately, living in this world means choosing, choosing to walk, and the way we choose to walk is infallibly and perfectly expressed in the walk itself. Nothing can disguise it. The walk of an ordinary man and of an enlightened man are as different as that of a snake and a giraffe.

(R.H. Blyth)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023