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I train in Taekwon-do (1st Dan Instructor) and ninjutsu (Beginner) and I had an interesting insight/question arise from my ninjutsu Instructor (which is why I picked up the second art):

In ninjutsu's Shizen (almost like TKD's Outer Open Stance, so a 50/50 weight distribution per LEG), we are supposed to bear ~2/3rds+ of our weight on the ball of the foot, and only ~1/3rd on the heel. This is to produce a more assertive stance that is more agile as well as better able to better absorb a hit from the front.

For me, this made a lot of sense as in Ice Hockey if you are caught on your heels you end up on your butt. Plus the shape of the human foot; a long-ish forward platform (the tarsals + metatarsals) with a rounded back that does not extend to the rear (the heel). If you are caught with too much weight behind, that rounded heel will dump you over.

I brought this question to my Taekwon-do instructors (2nd, 4th and 6th Dans) and it was pretty clear that they had never thought about it in this way either. The question is still open on the TKD side (we are all having a think about it) but they seem to think it's a 50/50 weight distribution across each FOOT (50% heel, 50% ball of foot).

So... why would you place more weight on the forefoot (ball of foot)? Why would you have an equal distribution between the ball of foot and heel? Why would you place more weight on the heel? I'm interested in some overall views on this that are generally applicable to stances, as well as views from how other martial arts use this "adjustable feature" of a stance.

IE: TKD's L-Stance (aka Back Stance) has a weight distribution of 30% on the front LEG, and 70% on the back LEG, but where do you carry that 70% on the back FOOT?

MORE INFO...

I once again spoke with my ninjutsu instructor about this, and he mentioned that Yoga practitioners have a concept of 4 points of balance and weight distribution per foot; outside-ball-of-foot, inside-ball-of-foot, outside-heel and inside-heel. Again, from an Ice Hockey players perspective, this makes a lot of sense (and makes me wonder why I've never thought of it in this way before). Ice skates have 2 edges; an inner and outer edge. It is also important to keep your weight centered over the blade for a neutral stance, and forward for an aggressive/fast stance. As Ice Hockey skates are rounded (you never have more then 1-2cm on the ice at a time), it's of course important not to rotate too much weight back (else you're on your butt). So, in Ice hockey, you have inner and outer edges, along with forward and back/neutral, so like Yoga, there are 4 points of balance on each foot.

Anyway... Yoga having 4 points of balance per foot is fascinating to me in relation to this question. So... does anyone else have a deeper understanding of how this concept applies to distributing your weight in relation to martial arts stances? What advantages would you gain by having a majority of your weight on the outer-ball of your foot? When you spar, where do you carry your weight in relation to these 4 zones of the foot? Why?

More MORE INFO...

I found a decent video on Yoga's concept of the "4 corners of the foot": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bk6zBPs79g . It focuses on muscle engagement / development as well as awareness of these 4 "zones".

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You are polling for various answers given the way your question is written which does not fit the model of Stack Exchange and would be closed as "not constructive." Please see the faq and this meta discussion for more information about this site. I suggest removing this and rewriting your question and making it a bit more specific and focused. Figure out what it is you want to know and then ask that. –  Matt Chan Apr 20 '12 at 2:08
    
I disagree, but I'm not the rule maker here. this is about getting some insights into a specific feature of stances across a range of martial arts in order to inform myself as an instructor in ITF TKD on why one might have a 50/50 distribution across heel and toes, or a 2/3 1/3, etc. Writing it as a "what is the best weight distribution across a foot and why" is more fodder for a Martial Arts pissing contest (which is also against the rules), but ok... –  Campbeln Apr 20 '12 at 3:21
    
At the moment the question is very broad: all stances? –  Dave Liepmann Apr 20 '12 at 4:01
    
I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I never said to rewrite it to ask for what is "best" but to remove the "what do you do in your martial art" portion. Your comment highlights what your question is - the differences and effects of weight distribution on your foot (and I would narrow this context down even more) - but all I merely was trying to get at was that the original main question you posed was in a format that doesn't fit the Stack Exchange Q&A model. –  Matt Chan Apr 20 '12 at 4:02
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Firstly, sorry for the glibness of my last message, on a re-read, it can sound worst then I intended. I can see you understand my question, so I will again endeavour to refine it. @Dave: I agree, I rewrote at the request of Matt, so I will try again... –  Campbeln Apr 20 '12 at 5:42
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5 Answers 5

This is an interesting question and I'd like to hear other's views on this.

I once read an article about diabetic foot ulcers. The articles explained that some diabetic lose sensation of pain from their feet. Your feet will automatically adjust weight distribution based on biofeedback. This happens subconsciously. However, since some diabetics don't feel pain in their feet, they keep hitting the ground on the same spot over and over again. This eventually lead to ulcers. Since these diabetics do not feel pain, they do not feel the ulcers. When left untreated, they develop conditions that requires amputation.

The key part here relavent to martial arts is this notion that your feet will automatically adjust how you place your feet. It means that attempting to consciously manage this will put you at a disadvantage as a martial artist. Natural foot placement probably works better in many cases (unless you have suffered injury in the past). There's a lot more discussion about this with the people that go barefoot running.

This story suggests that it is far more effective to train foot sensitivity than it is to train weight distribution on the individual foot. Going barefoot, wearing five-toe shoes, or other thin-soled, heel-less footwear on varying terrain will help train this. So would moving through kata slowly (which forces you to avoid falling into the step, and "rest" on your weighted leg) and holding stances for a long periods of time (which works out the kinks in the way your foot spreads out the weight). It's probably why much training has traditionally focused on weight distribution of the legs, and not the feet.

Now having said all of that, there are some consequences to things like pivoting on your heel versus pivoting on the balls of the feet. Pivoting on the heels is how I learned much of the changes (the essence of evading, throwing, stepping, etc.) in baguazhang. Pivoting on the balls of my feet was what messed up my knees. I didn't have sufficient hip flexibility, so pivoting on the balls of the feet added an more torque to knees. In contrast, pivoting on the balls stays better aligned with the opening and closing of the hips.

So while pivoting does not have a direct bearing on carrying weight in a static posture, if you are trying to eliminate telegraphing, I suppose it makes sense to carry your weight on the heels if you plan on pivoting on the heels. It just feels unnatural.

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I'm not sure if this answers the question (I'm not entirely sure what the question is, to be honest), but conscious alteration of foot movement is not only possible, but recommended. We learn bad habits (by wearing hard soled shoes, for instance). Most of the good habits we ever had were as children when we moved naturally. Ever seen toddlers fall? –  stslavik Apr 20 '12 at 18:09
    
@stslavik Sure, I've seen toddlers fail. They are usually learning with a child's mind though, unlike many adults. And bad habit does matter (falling too much on the inside of my foot over a number of years predisposed me to bad knees). However, I think the original poster is coming from the wrong frame, and this answer was intended to answer from a better frame. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Apr 22 '12 at 16:04
    
Excellent answer! This is very much along the lines that I am looking for! I think you have a lot of merit in saying that natural foot weight dist. is "best" but as in Ninjitzu there are distinct advantages to moving more weight forward. Plus as a barefoot runner myself, I've read a lot of articles and a few studies that make the suggestion that modern footwear may have disrupted our "natural" instincts more than a bit. As to rotating on the heel rather than ball of your foot, that too is interesting! In TKD, I believe all of the rotations are on the ball of the foot (per the Encyclopaedia). –  Campbeln Apr 23 '12 at 0:34
    
@Campbeln cool, glad it helped. Let me know if you find anything interesting. I don't think my answer is complete. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Apr 23 '12 at 5:04
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This is quite an interesting concept, and underlies why it can be advantageous to cross-train in more than one martial art. There are many variations and emphases between arts, and even within the same art across schools. Cross training can force you to rethink things you've already learned, and perhaps come up with a blend where each influence only makes you better.

In arts that don't prescribe weight distributions for the foot, it's not seen as important. By that I mean that any advantage you get is overshadowed by other factors. For example, TKD and similar arts are built on the premise of one-hit-one-kill. The underlying principle is that a strong base provides power. When that strike lands, the fight is over (still be ready for the next opponent or the strike being blocked). As such, the weight should be over the whole foot, or if there is any variation it would be the heel into the ground.

The ninjitsu art you are studying sounds like you are training to be agile, and for speed being a major component of the art. While I am not familiar with the underlying philosophies of Ninjitzu's Shizen, it is safe to say that the founders of the art did find strategic value in weight distribution in the feet. Traditionally, ninjitsu was used by spies, who's goals were not necessarily to win every fight. That does not mean that they weren't skilled fighters, but they had responsibilities to their missions and had to remain undetected as much as possible. A slight shift in weight on the foot would not make noise, while still readying the ninja for an impending confrontation. Again, this is my take based on what I know of Japanese history and what it sounds like is important to this art.

To summarize:

  • Arts that don't specify foot weight distribution focus on other things.
  • Arts that do specify foot weight distribution find value in it.
  • When discovering the optimal foot-weight distribution (for example applying ninjitsu to TKD), exercise your proprioception. Proprioception is your perception of your body position in space.
  • Experiment to find out what feels best, and see if you can improve on it.
  • Practice until you don't need to think about it any more.

Active thought about stance, technique, etc. while fighting is what can cause you to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What is more important is that you learn the techniques so well, your body just reacts and flows on its own. It should be muscle memory that takes over.

If I were to venture some hypotheses on foot balance applied to TKD I would think on it this way:

  • Back stance: back foot 70% heel, front foot 70% toe
  • Front stance: back foot 50/50, front foot 70% heel (we need power, not quickness)
  • Kima stance (horse stance): 70% on the outside edge of each foot
  • Fixed stance: both feet 50/50

Fighting stance would depend on your style of fighting. Many people prefer to be on the balls of their feet for extra quickness. This can also lead you to telegraph your movements. Some people will move their back foot to close distance and then move in for a strike. Others will launch off the back foot where they are. The former will instinctively distribute more weight on the portion of the foot farthest away from the attack for stability, while the latter will distribute more weight on the ball of the foot for more speed.

Honestly, I think you will find that your foot weight distribution will rock back and forth depending on the technique you are doing. Another art that might cause you to think about some things is "Wave style" iaido. I wish I could remember the Japanese name for it so I could get you a link. The concept behind the art is generating a wave of power. Meaning the way the body moves rolls the muscles being contracted until the momentum does what it needs to do. Footwork in this style predominantly puts the weight on the heel, allowing the artist to turn freely while having a strong stance. Strikes with the katana roll from the pinky to the pointer finger, and the same technique is used to stop the blade from moving. It is actually a rather modern adaptation originating from California.

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[NB: It is entirely likely that you will have no idea what I'm talking about here. Unless you have training in Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu, this will all be foreign to you, and this is purposely so. This is based on content from my own training manual, and is meant to aid students in their continued study of taijutsu and is not for everyone.]

From the perspective of ninpo taijutsu, before you can understand the shifting of weight in stances, you have to understand what stances are.

Kamae

In ninpo taijutsu, it's true that we teach a number of different stances, each will have different weight distributions. For example, we teach distributions such as:

  • Shizen no Kamae – AKA shizen tai, here the body is in a relaxed posture. Weight is centered, 50% left, 50% right. Your balance is forward slightly onto the balls of your feet. This stance represents the natural posture one might find oneself in prior to moving.

  • Ichimonji no Kamae – From shizen no kamae, step back to the right on the 45° angle, creating an L-shape with your feet (the front [left] foot points toward your opponent, the right is perpendicular to the line of the left). Your weight is approximately 60% to the rear, the knee of the right foot above the right toes, putting the weight more foreword on the ball of the right.

These are two of our most fundamental examples, but they illustrate an important point – Why does the description of ichimonji no kamae start from shizen no kamae?

The lazy answer to this is simply to give a point of reference. Giving it no more thought would make this a suitable explanation, but what reference do we give for shizen no kamae?

"Stances" is a poor translation of kamae, which implies "posture", not stance. This is an important distinction, as ones posture is dynamic. At the most basic of levels, we start from one kamae and move to another. These, however, are snapshots in time, and we do not move to kamae, but through them.

Weight Distributions

Consider for a moment stepping into ichimonji no kamae. If this movement is a natural movement, then you step back and pause briefly as you put your foot down. Ask yourself this question: Where is my momentum going as I step here?

You may have only learned ichimonji no kata, and believe your next step is forward, but it's not. Your next transition would be into doko no kamae with your hand beside your head (you have, after all, in stepping back received an incoming strike). Your momentum then is carrying you away.

Therefore, it's not important to view your positioning at one moment based on the percentages so long as your body is stable. You will maintain stability so long as you don't fight momentum.

In order to properly step back into ichimonji no kamae the butt must be tucked in slightly. If it's sticking out at all, you're leaning forward with your torso. Where, then, would the balance between the ball of your foot and the heel be? It will be on the heel, and you will be off balance (easily pulled forward).

Training for Proper Kamae

When I was first starting in the Bujinkan, I heard a quote from Hatsumi-sensei that Charlie Chaplin had great kamae. I made a little game out of this quote by seeing if I could move the way that Chaplin did in his old films. I watched Modern Times and The Kid and played at emulating his movements. What I realized was that Chaplin had balance.

It wasn't about percentages left or right or forward or backward, but about moving and maintaining proper balance. You're stopping mid-movement, so make the most of it. Taijutsu isn't about techniques, it's about principles, and principles are found in moving naturally. Taking advantage of your movement, ask yourself if:

  • Your spine is plumb and shoulders parallel with your hips. (That is, they are in line, shoulders above hips, with no twisting of the back).

  • Your balance points are in line. (You should be able to connect a string between each of your 6 balance point and find them more or less parallel to the ground. The six points are: Eyes, Shoulders, Elbows, Hips, Knees, and Ankles).

  • You are breathing. (Breathing oxygenates the muscles, allowing them to work efficiently with minimal strain. This is surprisingly more important than realized).

  • You are still natural! (Once you've made all the other assessments and corrections, are you still in the same position you stepped into? If not, go back to shizen and try again!)

Kamae are like a kick at full extension – a snapshot of continued motion. Everything is kamae, since your movements, striking, etc. are all transitioned through kamae. Focus on finding where you enter and leave the known kamae as you train, and you're looking at the key principles of the art. And remember this above all else: everything comes from shizen no kamae.

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Excellent Excellent Excellent! This is a wonderful insight into how balance, weight distribution and motion are all thought of and utilized in Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu. I was able to follow along thru this write-up (thankfully, everything was defined), and it doesn't differ too much from the TKD Encyclopaedia wording-wise (Ichimonji no Kamae sounds very much like Fixed or L-Stance). Do take a look at the Yoga video I posted in the Q above, you may find it as interesting as I did. Is there anyway I can talk you out of a copy of this student handbook? It seems excellent! –  Campbeln Apr 24 '12 at 6:39
    
The significance of a Kamae being a moment of continual motion is hugely pertinent. We move through Kamae. Great answer. –  Gavin Apr 9 '13 at 20:52
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First of all, Here (Youtube)'s some related eye/mind candy from the show Fight Science.

Now I will ask you some other questions instead. Why are you in stance X? What do you want to be able to do from there? Anything you need to do will require energy transfers: from you to the ground, from the opponent to you (and maybe to the ground). Weight distribution on the foot, in various stances, helps or hinders this.

[Edit - an addendum because of a problem I had while thinking about this over the years: do not let your weight rest in your knees!]

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thanks for the YouTube link (though I need a US proxy to view it, so it will have to wait for home). As to your question; I'm working form the assumption you are in the proper/perfect/whatever stance for the situation and/or for the next technique (a tall ask, I know), I just want to focus on the ins and outs of weight distribution across the foot. Certainly in some stances it's less of a factor (if at all), one-legged stances for example (but even then you wouldn't want your weight focused in your heel). Teasing stances apart to this level may not make sense, but I want to see if it does =) –  Campbeln Apr 24 '12 at 6:44
    
The thing is - where you are is never as important as where you want to be. That means that where your weight is just is not as important as where your weight will be. –  Trevoke Apr 25 '12 at 13:52
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Having seen your question in context, I can understand why you've asked it and I believe you're being a thorough practitioner by posing it. If I may (...well, I'm going to anyway :D ), Have you given thought to how you distribute your weight across your feet while you're standing relaxed? Also, how would the same question be answered were you sprinting... or for that matter, side-stepping while carrying a heavy bag on a narrow beam? The point being, weight distribution across the sole of your foot is secondary to the scenario the practitioner is in. As you'd know, when we're competitively sparring, very little if any heel is ever constantly settled. By contrast, Power breaking will see a completely different set of weight distributions depending on the technique and almost all would involve a solid grounding of the heel even if only 50%.

Given you're considering a specific distribution across your foot as opposed to being fluid in your distribution as the need arises I'd argue that for Taekwon-Do, this isn't a concern and in fact I'd consider maintaining a tense calf muscle for the effect may be an unnecessary energy consuming activity if there isn't a specific objective you'd likely achieve or other reason for it. For examle, say the purposes of retreating in a hurry, this may be an ever so slight advantage for your average ready (L) stance but I'd imagine a Taekwon-Do student would, given the same scenario, near instantly diverge all weight to the ball of the forward foot for maximum effect. By contrast, maintaining a two-third weighting on the ball would be counter-intuitive for a lunging offensive. That certainly isn't to say it's wrong because as already mentioned here, different arts will derive value from different specifics for different reasons.

As you know, to wholeheartedly weight your heel is to commit structural blasphemy (for giggles, try walking around on your heels for a while...) In Taekwon-Do, it's important for the student to be well balanced and comfortable in his or her stance. If they believe it involves two-thirds of their weight forward to the ball then so be it, but Don't advise the student so, unless of course you're instructing a Ninjutsu class.

:D

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