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Some techniques in hapkido are practiced with a foot sliding along the ground or remaining in contact with the ground. For example, in a sequence we call a stepping pattern, it isn't uncommon to step with one foot moving forward, and then slide the back leg into position. Similarly when practicing sweeps there are several sweeps where the leg is picked up, but there are multiple others where you slide your foot along the ground until just before you make contact.

The justifications given here are related to stability and "getting power from the ground."

When I practiced rapier fighting, however, the emphasis was always on picking up the feet. The justification given for this was that you weren't always sure what the terrain would be that you were fighting on, and you wanted to pick up your feet so as to firmly place them where you wanted them. We also tend to practice hapkido barefoot and inside, where we tend to practice rapier with boots on and outside.

I've seen this now in a few other places: Either the foot is never supposed to slide across the ground, or it consistently does in some situations.

What are the pros and cons of doing this? Is it just practiced as an artifact of the arts being indoors on good mats or do you actually generate stability/power/flow by remaining in contact with the ground for longer?

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It is very important to practice those indoor--barefoot skills in various footwear on various terrain. Not surprisingly you have to re-learn the skills. The interesting bit as far as I'm concerned is that I think it improved by in-the-dojo footwork. –  dmckee May 15 '12 at 2:21
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5 Answers 5

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Kondo Sensei (Tomiki Aikido, check wikipedia for his vitals) says that the reason we slide our feet rather than lifting them is that when you lift your feet you give up a bit of balance. I would rephrase this to say that you cannot lift your foot unless you have no weight on that foot; that means for that instant your balance is focused on the weight bearing foot. Yes, you still need to reduce the weight on the moving foot when it slides, but the balance is better distributed. Aikido relies heavily on unbalancing your opponent; I don't practice Hapikido (yet) , but I'm told the same in that art. Aikido also relies heavily on the foot slide (I think you're describing what we refer to as "Tsugi Ashi"). Both of the weapon techniques I've studied (jo and sword) also slide feet, although I haven't advanced enough in those arts to know whether that is consistent, or merely an artifact of my beginner status.

I know very little about rapier, but from watching and listening, it seems to me that the action is linear and that speed and distance matter more than balance. Consequently it isn't as important to defend your balance. (I'm not saying balance isn't involved, I'm saying that from my understanding Aikido emphasizes balance and unbalance more than I understand that rapier does)

Having said this, let me quickly point out that I'm not claiming to have a final answer. Parker Sensei of Mokuren Dojo has stated that in Karate one does not slide the feet (I can't find his article and his site doesn't seem to have search. That said he has written two articles Fall or step over hill and Naihanchi footwork that may be relevant), and that my Taiji teacher does not want me to slide feet, despite the fact that Taiji is heavily invested in balance. My MuGai Ryu teacher explained it in terms that not dissimilar to Trevoke who explained that point of view as well as I understand it.

So in summary the pro to the "sliding" motion is that it preserves your balance more effectively against certain types of attack. The Con is that you are somewhat limited in the distance and speed you can manage. I'd also agree with you that sliding works best on a mat; when I work outdoors, I make the appropriate compromise.

If you need more answers, I'd suggest contacting Parker Sensei who can both walk the walk and write the talk. I'll ask if he'd be willing to comment.

Hope that helps. (Had to go back through and remove all the links in the original; I don't have the reputation needed to post all the links).

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Every martial art has its own philosophy which influences what is emphasized. That philosophy is in turn influenced by:

  • Terrain of the region it grew up in
  • Available weapons (including strikes as weapons)
  • The martial arts of the surrounding areas (i.e. common enemies)

If the terrain is a loose gravel, or many unpredictable sink holes in the ground, sliding feet will help discover those areas and compensate more quickly. There's nothing more useless than falling down or twisting your ankle in the middle of a fight. Areas with more predictable or stable terrain will enable more picking up your feet.

Rapier is designed for thrusting strikes. The point is tempered to a harder steel than the body. The thrust being the kill technique. In order for that type of weapon to work, you need speed. Rapier arts are designed around that philosophy, so the combination of picking your feet up, and the types of attacks and defenses available are influenced by the sword.

Iaido and kendo are built around a katana which is designed to slice on the edge. One side of the blade is tempered to a harder steel, providing a sharp cutting edge while the main body of the sword is tempered to a softer steel providing strength. While there is a thrust technique, it is only one of the 8 strikes and the least preferred. The katana based sword arts use the hip as part of the cut.

Even in a broader sense, Japanese martial arts tend to favor a philosophy of "no wasted movement". If I can close the distance by barely moving my feet just as quickly as someone who picks their feet up, then I would consider picking the foot up to be wasted movement. I can use that energy for the hissatsu (final/lethal strike). The sword arts were also influenced by the open hand arts (and vice versa), so you'll find many similarities.

What all this means

Every martial art has a philosophy, and not all philosophies are compatible. Training for pure speed is very different than training for power. Some arts favor speed because a strike, while it may not disable the opponent, will distract or disorient them allowing for more strikes. Some forms of kung fu are based on that the idea that you overwhelm the opponent by a barrage of strikes. Others are based on the idea of "one hit, one kill", which is a philosophy in Tae Kwan Do.

The philosophies behind the rapier fighting would be at odds with hapkido. You use different tools. You have very different cultures and environments where the martial arts grew up. Eventually, you will gravitate toward one of the more basic philosophies and embrace it. That doesn't mean that one is inherently better than the other. It means that one is more useful in certain circumstances than another.

The basic law of the jungle is: whoever is most prepared for a fight will win. Some of the factors that can favor one approach vs. another can include the terrain, whether you are indoors or out, elevation, etc. However, all things being equal, the one who has trained the best for that fight will win 9 times out of 10. (the remaining 1 time is for someone who just gets lucky).

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From my experience with iaido, sliding the foot along the ground is actually just the first level of a more complex skill which involves expanding your energy forward from the hips (and sliding the legs back involves compressing your energy). The movement actually comes from the hip and is expressed in the foot.

This changes rather drastically the power expressed through a technique like a two-handed sword cut or a throw.

With a rapier, the act of stepping actually allows you to, well, fall forward onto the foot you lifted, giving you greater and more sudden power in that direction as long as the movement is coordinated properly.

This is similar to trying to hit someone with your fist and bringing it crashing down with all your force on their collarbone -- or relaxing all your muscles and letting gravity do the work. It turns out gravity provides you much better acceleration than your muscles ever will, meaning that with the appropriate amount of skill, you can provide a very light, very quick touch/pierce with a rapier in a very particular direction.

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I like the point on iaido, so +1 for that, but I think your impression of rapier is a bit off. We did live steel tests on melons and sides of beef and pork: if you hit with anything other than the lightest possible touch with a blade, you ended up binding your blade and not being able to retrieve it quickly. So hitting with power was never the intent, speed was. –  David H. Clements May 16 '12 at 14:30
    
@DavidH.Clements Edited my answer to explain my point. –  Trevoke May 16 '12 at 14:40
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The Hung brothers, Hung I-mien and Hong I-hsiang, differed on their expressions of baguazhang and xingyiquan. Both men had trained under the same teacher.

Hung I-mien, being smaller and whipcord thin, picked up his feet. He tend to dance around in unpredictable directions and taught the forms that way to his students.

Hung I-hsiang, on the other hand, was built like a bear. He dragged his feet. He was big enough to be able to step into someone else's space and bounce them out. He taught his students this way.

I was taught to choose one or the other. I have noticed big guys tend to favor dragging the feet. It takes more effort for them to pick up their feet, and keeping the feet closer gives them more stability. A small person may find picking up the feet gives him greater mobility.

I personally treat picking up vs. dragging feet as variations. Picking up the feet encodes hidden attacks in the form of low kicks, low point strikes, pinning the other guy's feet, manipulating the other guy's structure with the knees, and invasion of space (among other things). I treat dragging feet as a small-circle variation of the big-circle (and obvious) picking up of the feet (learn the forms with big circles; refine it by making the circles small).

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That's really interesting context. I hadn't ever looked up the Hung brothers before. –  David H. Clements May 24 '12 at 16:50
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@DavidH.Clements Robert W. Smith. Chinese Boxing –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao May 26 '12 at 22:32
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IMVHO, reasons like "getting power from the ground" (or similar) are usually given by someone who either doesn't have a good explanation for the practice or does not want to tell you the real reason (either due to complexity or insufficient rank).

Yes, there is a bio-mechanical advantage to be gained from correct leverage of the leg/foot against the ground, but that simply doesn't apply to the foot sliding across a surface.

I believe the simplest answer to your questions is that the different emphasis between the arts is due to one (Hapkido) using the foot as part of the attack and the other (rapier fighting) is using it purely as a support.

In the arts I have learnt, the stance is not just for standing in, it is part of the movement, part of the attack. Similarly changing between stances is also part of the movement/attack. Sliding your foot from one position to the next is part of that stance change. A stance change can be particularly effective when you have contact with the opponent, e.g. you have them in a hold, or you are using the stance change to contact/attack them. In rapier fighting where you are mainly relying on poking/cutting the opponent there is a lot less emphasis on the stance (or change of stance) due to it not being an integral part of the attack as it is in Hapkido or other arts.

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