Introduction to Rooting Skill

The easiest way to rob your opponent of their power is to break their connection with the ground. Thus uprooted, Newton’s Third Law compromises their ability to generate penetrating force, and reduces any continued aggression from a potentially deadly threat to a mere nuisance.

The complementary skill—the ability to keep your footing amidst incoming force—is known in Chinese martial arts as rooting.

Typical demonstrations of rooting skill consist of a wushu master in a static posture, with a pack of disciples pushing and pulling to no avail. These shows are impressive, but often fail to highlight the most important characteristic of the skill: effortlessness.

Strong legs and the ability to hold low stances are not equivalent to a root. They produce similar results during low-intensity training, such as fixed-step push hands, but more energetic sparring practice exposes the distinction.

The use of static postures leaves you vulnerable to counterattack. In real hand-to-hand combat, your opponent’s goal is not to uproot you; they will be quite content to drop you where you stand. Clamping yourself onto the ground is the worst possible strategy. The pseudo-root provided by a stiff ma bu exposes your lower body, and prevents you from maintaining a superior position in relation to a mobile adversary.

An Applied Art of Non-Contention

Rooting demonstration by Taiji master Chen Xiaowang

Rooting skill keeps you upright and stable, without a penalty of immobility. Instead of intentionally engaging your legs to counteract a push or pull, you adjust your center of gravity to nullify it. Since your joints remain unlocked, you can move your body and limbs at will.

To root is to deny your opponent a surface on which they may productively apply their strength. They touch your body, but cannot disturb your center.

How can you develop a strong root? Learning to sink the qi is not enough. Fortunately, there are specific, self-correcting partner drills designed to sharpen this skill.

10 comments on “Introduction to Rooting Skill”

  1. You’ll notice that the master has one hand on the person pushing to cycle the energy back to him.

  2. When you walk onto slippery ground, what happens to your center of gravity?

    If you are standing on a challenging surface, where is your opponent standing?

  3. Well, you’re right. Rooting will not help you against a martial art practitioner who wants to punch your face or get you down to the ground (grappler). The best tactics is to predict the opponents intentions and strike first. But the question is then, how do you do that?

  4. If you are willing and able to strike first, I suppose your opponent’s intentions are irrelevant.

    The best way to predict your opponent’s movement is to choose it for them. 🙂

  5. “If you are willing and able to strike first, I suppose your opponent’s intentions are irrelevant”..

    How can you be able to strike first if the opponent can in advance see your movement? For example, you want to strike with the “jab”and you move to a side before you do that. That’s the intention of striking and you’re busted! 😉

  6. Fortunately, there are specific, self-correcting partner drills designed to sharpen this skill…

    It would be really awesome if you could share a couple with us…or at least give more of a push in the right direction…

  7. Farhan, I think that any exercise where at least one person is not allowed to move their feet can get the job done. If you don’t have a practice partner, even pushing on a wall can help–provided of course that do it with good form, however you choose to define “good form” in your art of choice.

    Then, it is appropriate to carry the skill developed in that exercise, into another exercise where the feet are not only allowed, but required to move. This is all in addition to sparring. No step in the progression is a suitable replacement for another IMO.

  8. Rooting is another word for balance. The classics tell us over and over to lift the crown of the head, as if suspended from above. This element of rooting is too often neglected, but without it you will not be balanced and therefore not rooted.

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