Big turnout in class today -- 10 on the floor and so no room for me.
We started with some stepping variations:
ayumi ashi: normal stepping; left right left
okuri ashi: shuffle stepping; keeping the forward foot forward
yose ashi: bringing the feet together (back foot to forward foot) before stepping out again with the forward foot
The point is to focus on balance and moving from the center. It's far too easy to just be lazy and "kick" with the back foot, extending the ankle (technically contracting the calf muscle, since using a muscle meaning contracting it, not stretching it) and using that to push the whole body forwards. But it's a silly way to move; the lower leg muscles are pretty small, and with all the weight on the back foot, it's gotta do the double duty of both holding up the body and moving it forwards. Much more efficient to move from the center, basically move out with the hip (not the leg or foot) of the non-supporting leg. Imagine trying to keep the weight evenly distributed on both legs, then bend the knees to give the hips room to move, and push the right hip forwards. The right leg is connected to the hip and therefore steps out. The back (left) supporting leg doesn't "do" anything; it just sits there supporting the body, staying flexed. Since the hips are connected, if the center of the body moves then eventually the whole body including the supporting left moves forwards. Not really magical, but certainly not the kind of movement most folks these days are used to doing. With the strong muscles of the body (back, thighs, etc.) moving the whole body as one, it's easy to translate that into the sword, so cutting out far, fast, and strong is easy, without relying on the small muscles of the arms.
I certainly don't move how I want to move, but I can feel some progress and I can see how others are still forcing their bodies to move, pushing and pulling with small muscles, arms fighting legs, momentum carrying the body out of balance. It should be smooth and easy, but of course getting to that point is the hard part.
After class Salty and I ran through a bunch of kumitachi for an hour. He moves well on some kata, needs better timing on others. I feel like I'm stuck in tar sometimes, just not getting my arms and legs coordinated, but in general it's all working, kind of. Will be good if I can keep pounding away every week. Salty can almost keep up with me, but he's got serious limits on the speed at which he can react and I'm really not that fast, it's just that I have better (well not better, but more effective) timing versus how he moves against my attacks. But he'll get there, he just needs to be pushed. I'm lucky in that I spent alot of time working with the young and fast who weren't afraid to really rip into me, and of course Gosoke taught me all the kumitachi personally so having him knock my sword into my own foot is a good way to learn.