The Skill of Walking
Walking is one of the basics of human movement. As with any basic skill, you can develop it in a myriad of ways with great potential to dig deeply into the practice. One of my favorite MMA fighters, BJ Penn, used to call his Brazilian jiu jitsu style "advanced basics." The techniques were elementary, but their refinement and application were performed at an advanced level.
Penn’s style is how I approach my study of many of the fundamental skills of MovNat, including walking. The following four ways are how I make walking more interesting.
Each step is an opportunity to refine your walking skill. [Photo Credit: Pixabay]
Take the Most Difficult Path
I live in a major metropolitan area with a lot of flat sidewalks, level ground, and symmetrical surfaces. It’s not the most nutritionally varied environment for my joints. You can walk for miles and miles in a straight line punctuated only by traffic lights.
To add complexity, I look for the most asymmetrical path. I walk down streets with busted up sidewalks, along sidewalk cracks (for all the moms who will suffer broken backs from this article, I'm deeply sorry), on cobblestones, or in a path that forces me to navigate targets like dodging stop signs, bus stops, outdoor store signs, or trash cans. My goal is to create variety in how I use my joints and give my brain problems to solve.
You can apply this technique anywhere – walking through the city, a parking lot at the grocery store, or in a public park. When you seek obstacles and challenges and stray off the beaten path, you can also integrate other MovNat skills into your walk like vaulting, carrying, and climbing.
Walk Fast Through a Crowd
The good thing about living in the city is there are a lot of people. The bad thing about living in the city is there are a lot of people.
I eat lunch at an indoor market a couple times a week and it's almost always packed with people moving (or not moving) at various speeds in various directions. I used to get frustrated navigating through the throngs of oblivious gawkers, unexpectedly standing still and blocking whole avenues for what seemed like an eternity. Then I figured out how to use them for practice.
I walk as fast as I can through the crowd. My two rules are to maintain as much speed as possible without crashing into people, and to move continuously. You will learn how to read the body cues of those around you to quickly change direction or dodge limbs as people abruptly move about. You have to be mentally aware to anticipate and react quickly. Your eyes scan, focus, and absorb information centrally as well as peripherally.
The challenge grows if you are carrying something because you not only have to navigate people, but you also have to make sure you don't lose what you are carrying. This is a big reason why I almost always have coffee stains on my pants.
On a technical level, you quickly notice the need for a variety of unusual footwork patterns including pivots, shuffles, skips, and side steps. The trick is to move efficiently and quickly through the crowd without looking like a weirdo river dancer.
Play With Body Mechanic Variables
Walking is a great time to explore different body mechanics by exaggerating and hyper-focusing on different parts of the movement: the pendulum-like qualities of the arms and legs, the subtle shifts of head position, the light twisting of the torso, stride length, the rebound as you quickly change direction, the stretch and release of the muscles as you make larger movements, or the compression and extension of the joints as your weight shifts. The opportunities to explore each element are endless.
Besides the actual mechanics of walking, you can explore the sequence of movements like rhythm, breaking, pace, and timing. Which parts move first and power the other parts in what order? What is the rhythm of that movement? What happens if you do things in a different sequence?
Tied in with feeling and studying your own mechanics and rhythm is mimicking how other people walk. Without being too much of a creep, you can mimic the arm swing, stride length, or degree of foot turnout of people walking around you to compare and contrast what their movement flavor is like versus yours. Mimicry can offer great insight into your own body, but you can also weird people out, so be subtle and respectful if you play with this one.
Step By Step
Walking is so basic that it's often overlooked as something to be practiced and developed, but it doesn't have to be. You can walk for distance and time but don't forget complexity. For many people, taking long walks can get boring, so take the mundane and do something interesting with it.
By challenging your walking patterns, you not only develop a more versatile skill, but you also develop the sub and auxiliary skills which are related to walking practice. The examples above are only a small sample of what is possible. I use walking to practice all kinds of odd stuff. Some practical and some purely exploratory. Some just plain weird. All interesting and fun.
With all of this walking, are you taking care of your feet?