Why Karate’s Classic “Heel-Turn” is Scientifically Wrong

Can you imagine?

For centuries, people thought the earth was flat.

Until science proved ’em wrong.

People also thought the earth was the center of the universe.

Science proved ’em wrong too.

(See a pattern?)

Now let’s talk Karate.

Due to the social setting and cultural context in which Karate originated, the inquisitive mindset required for scientifical breakthrough has never been popularized in our art of Karate to any higher degree.

Until now.

You see, here’s the thing:

For billions of years, people have thought that one of Karate’s most important secrets for maximizing power, speed and balance lies in using a specific body part.

The heel.

According to “ancient traditions” in Karate, you should often…

  1. Pivot on the heel when you turn.
  2. Keep your weight centered above your heels.
  3. Never lift your rear heel above the ground when you punch.


Newsflash, Einstein:

Science says otherwise.

At least according to sensei Lucio Maurino – multiple times Italian, European and World Champion (EKF/WKF), Doctor in Motor Science (Preventive & Adaptive Sports Science), Level IV Coach of the European Olympic Committee, national trainer of the Italian Karate Federation and self-confessed Karate Nerd(yup!).

Today, he’s here to tell you that the way most people use their heel in Karate is fundamentally foolish, possibly harmful, and above all; biomechanically wrong.

The best part?

I got it all on video.

You see, last week I visited sensei Maurino’s international training camp (‘Karate Allstars’) in Italy for a fun-filled weekend of world-class pizza eating hardcore training, and during a short break I decided to ask him about this specific topic.

Although many masters advocate it, to use the heel as pivot point or “almighty source of power” just didn’t feel right to me… no matter how much I practiced!

But hey – feelings can’t always be trusted, right?

I needed answers.

Luckily, sensei Lucio Maurino proved me right.

By combining his typical no-nonsense approach to Karate with the classic scientific method, adding some light-hearted humor in the mix, sensei Maurino delivered an awesome lesson on camera for me – just as in my previous interviews with him.

(Watch it twice to really follow his train of thought.)

You ready?

Check it out:

Super thanks to Alex Timmi-san for filming!

Step-by-Step Explanation:

Maurino sensei starts by pointing out that human beings have a limited range of optimal balance. He demonstrates this by swaying back and forth.

Using this observation as empirical backdrop, he poses a rhetorical question: Why is the distance between our ankle and toes longer than the distance between our ankle and heel? Maurino says that the main reason is balance. When we need more balance, we naturally lower our center of gravity – which shifts our downward pressure forward, moving our weight towards the front of the foot.

He continues by likening this concept to the biological mechanism of running. The human body is designed to run forward – not backwards. Hence, having your weight on the heels isn’t just unsound from a perspective of mechanical efficiency, but doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective either.

Sensei Maurino then asks me if I’ll go skiing this winter. Somewhat surprised by his off-topic question, I reply “Yes!”, although I seriously hate skiing. It just hurts my feet. Anyway, he draws an analogy to skiing, explaining that you can’t keep your balance or turn if you stand straight on your heels when you ski. You need to exert downward pressure towards the front of your feet, as experienced skiers know. The point of this analogy is that skis are made for moving forward – just like the human body.

Next, sensei Maurino explains that when you bend your knees to exert correct pressure with your legs, your center of weight shifts forward; from your ankle towards the head of your metatarsus (ball of the foot). He asks me to imitate him, by bending my knees while trying to pivot on my heels. I successfully do it, but I’m trying to be a smartass and miss the real point of the exercise – since I’m not applying any pressure.

I ask if this depends on the height of one’s stance. Sensei Maurino says that all stances should be the same level – especially in Shotokan Karate.

I go on, by asking him why some Japanese masters, organizations and even world champions advocate the benefits of using the heel as pivot point.

Sensei Maurino initially replies that “you should ask them”, but then proceeds to give me an indirect answer: This is a biomechanical law that is very difficult for people to first understand – presumably even grandmasters and champions.

Many teachers used to tell him similar things in his youth, but today his scientific research has debunked many of those myths; including the notion that your rear heel must be fully grounded in order to maximize power in your punch, which is a misunderstanding of the fact that optimal power comes not from your heel, but from “the addition of you body’s rotating acceleration and linear acceleration”. This has been proved with force plates in studies across the world, and is independent of your heel. He demonstrates by punching me in the gut. I hold back a small tear, pretending it didn’t knock the wind out of me.

Lastly, sensei Maurino reiterates his original point by stating that you must maintain pressure on the balls of your feet at all times, or else your movement will be inefficient. He demonstrates the difference between a good and bad step, along with a flawless 360 degree rotation to really drive his point home.

He concludes by saying “It’s very important to understand this principle.”

We shake hands and I thank him for his time.


How have YOU been taught?

Leave a comment & let me know! 


PS. If you want to be a Karate Nerd™ too, join us here.


  • Very interesting! To turn on the heel is also not healthy for your knee joints. The ball of the foot also works like a spring, where you can get the energy for a step forward. Some running shoes have a very soft inlay (damping) on the heel. This is also not good for the joints. It imitates that the heel is working like a spring, but this make an unnatural movement for the leg. Correct me if I'm wrong, or misunderstand something. I'm sorry but I didn't get the point with the "biomechanical law that is very difficult for people to first understand" - is it good and right to turn on the heel or not??
  • Artur
    The heel-turn is somewhat unnatural. When I started running barefeet I realized that I couldn't run without hurting myself if I'd continued to use the 'heel striking" pattern. For me the same applies to my karate. If I want to generate more power and still keep my balance I couldn't go on heel turns. This "biomechanical law" for me is about the elastic forces on the "heel striking" and the "ball-of-the foot strinking". The more elastic and less aggressive and harmful to the joints the better!
    • Rhio2k
      Exactly. Notice that all animals faster than humans basically move around ALL THE TIME on the balls of their feet, with their heels raised.
  • John
    I practice Goju Ryu and we always turn on our big toes. Never the heel. Goju being an in close fighting style. Allows for better balance, faster movement.
    • I agree John, I do Goju-Kai and we are taught from the very beginning to NEVER turn on your heels or even flat footed. You turn on your toes. And also use your heel as a spring when fighting - turning your back heel and hips at the same time as your fist strikes for maximum power. If you turn very fast on your heels you will just fall on your bum. Except if maybe you intended to do that, then it's cool ! :) @Jesse-san, great article once again! Keep digging for answers, you are doing an amazing job!
    • Alex
      I agree. I've never come across a "heel turn", and I've been learning Karate since 1978. Glad whoever wrote this article found out that he was taught wrongly. That is not to say "karate's heel turn is wrong" because karate doesn't have a heel turn!
  • Jack Cyp
    I, started turning using the ball of the foot. It wasn't easy. Turning in general is not easy'. For years and years I turned/pivot using the ball of my foot. Until at last.. I got it.. I was able to turn fairly good. Then I read tat the we were supposed to used the heel. I tried using the heel and again in wasn't easy. Initially I wasn't used to it. But after awhile it was quite fast.. Everything at first is hard/difficult.. But once you get used to it.. it's second nature to you. In short.. I prefer the heel of the foot.. It's faster. But then again I'm not a world Champion.
  • paul
    In our club(Shito-Ryu) we train for pivoting on the balls of our foot.
  • Al
    Osu Jesse! I've been taught to use the ball of the foot for rotation during kicks and punches, and being able to rotate on the ball of the foot makes it easier to recruit the hip for such techniques. Rotational force (torque) is definitely stronger than linear force, that's why for example that an uppercut or hook punch cause more damage than a straight tsuki. Also, from a safety point of view, when doing a roundhouse kick, if you don't bend the knee and twist on the ball of the foot, you'll injure your knee of the support leg very quickly. If you take a look at Muay Thai fighters raise their heel super high during high front and roundhouse kicks, too high up in my personal opinion, but this allows them to gain a couple of inches for reach and generate more power. As for punching, many think that the power is generated from the hips, which is not 100% correct. You need to generate power from the ground through your foot up through your hip, back back and follow the line up to your knuckles. I've been working on this since I've been taught to mainly use the hips without using the legs. I found that by recruit the legs in the punch, you carry the full weight of your body in the technique, more weight is more power. Or am I mistaken? Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. Osu Al
    • Paul
      Force is Force (no Jedi here...), Whether its source is "rotational or linear" doesn't change force. (F=m*a) Force is a term over (and often improperly) used if you are talking from a physics standpoint. (Power and Energy are also often misused in the same manner...) The mechanics behind a punch (for example) our bodies use linear and rotational motions to generate the "force" All that being said...Your technique will have more "impact" on the target with more mass behind it and more speed at time of impact. How much "power/force/impact" is delivered is also dependent on the Impulse (Force/Time) which the opponent can change by "absorbing" the blow, also changing the angle of impact (The more perpendicular the impact is to the surface the more of the actual "force" will go into the target) When comparing a linear technique to a circular technique there are other considerations besides which has more "hitting power". For example, a front hand straight punch (Mae te zuki) may only need to travel 30 cm to hit target and has very little telegraph. Where as the haymaker/roundhouse punch may need to travel 60-90 cm's in it's arc and is often very telegraphed. Then you must also consider your body's posture and balance upon delivering the technique (especially if you don't 1 hit KO your opponent) leaving your self in an unbalanced and poor posture position leaves you vulnerable to a counter attack. I'm not advocating one style of technique (linear vs circular) over another, I think each has their place. Just pointing out that you can't compare just one aspect of them.
    • Mee Too
      Mass is put behind a straight or uppercut punch. Weight would be used if you jumped in the air and landed on top of your opponent since it is the force of gravity on a mass. In terms of proper physics, this is fact that most people have no clue of or choose to ignore
  • Ivan
    If you want to be FAST when changing the angles - rotate on heel, but when you want to be PRECISE - rotate on ball of the foot!
    • Manuel
      I don't think so...we must be fast AND precise, and that comes with hard training.
  • Manuel
    I completely agree with this! My only reason for keeping the heel down is to have more surface of the foot placed on the ground and so having better "grip" but I always turn on the ball of the foot and put more weight on it!?
  • Antonis Tzounis
    Same as in Goju-Ryu, in Uechi-Ryu mawate turns are done like that. "It is all in Sanchin" Sorry for repeating myself, but Sanchin (at least in Uechi-Ryu) is a cornerstone. Mawate is executed exactly under the principles Sensei Lucio Maurino describes. Pressure is put under the front soles of the feet (the same hard skin area that is used in mae-geri). This part of the foot skin is as tough as heel, simply because, along with the heel, they are the parts of the foot that come directly in contact with the ground. The pressure points of the foot create a triangular area of when it lands on the ground and this kind-of triangle creates a non-equilateral pyramid with our ankle as top. If someone keeps that in mind it is quite simple to figure out how to balance, and/or what went wrong when he gets out of balance in case of a wrong feet landing or placement. Under this concept I come to agree on your article against pivoting on heels.
    • Jack M
      Ditto, I do goju and whilst in kata I don't lift it up so much but certainly the weight is only ever on the heels in Neko Ashi. I think it could be an inheritance from Tai Chi through Kanyro Higaonna, it seems to be all the Naha styles. I don't even know how it started though with all this "it's always more powerful with the heel down". It's the driving of the leg that starts the whole process going, it's totally natural to lift it as you punch, even as you kick. Who decided any other way was a good idea!!!
  • My sensei Inoue Motokatsu, founder of Yuishinryu, always told that we need to use the ball of the foot for rotation during different body mowements (taisabaki), never the heel.
  • Ilja
    Hey Jesse, good point of sensei Maurino. For me it makes sense and sometimes I'm also moving according to this principle. I think it really depends on the movement itself. What about movements, where you not intent to move forward? Here is one handy example: Rika Usami is turning on her heel, doing this: http://youtu.be/bN0s_S1Wz7s?t=1m53s I'm not saying, that you shouldn't apply pressure on your metatarsus :) afterwards. You should. greets from Munich :), Ilja
    • Paul
      Rika is a great competitor so this isn't a comment on her or against "Sport" Karate But... Many techniques are done differently for Tournament/Sport Karate then for Budo/Art/Self-Defense/Whatever else you want to call it type Karate. So when comparing "how she/he did it". Or what is "the best" way to do something you must look at the context. Many times the best way to do it for a tournament purpose (score points/look good to judges etc...) is not the best way from a Budo/Art point of view. And vice-versa. Queue incoming "Sport vs Budo" debates... ;)
      • Paul
        Jesse had a good article outlining some of these differences: https://www.karatebyjesse.com/sport-karate-meimoku-no-bugei/
  • The turning on the heel, ball of the foot or the entire bottom of the foot is in relationship to how far the feet are apart when using the hips. In Shorin Ryu the hip rotation leads the turning of the foot. The hips turn first and the feet follow. If you move the feet first then the hip usage is diminished. The center of the body should move the lower extremities and upper extremities.
    • It's the way i always did unconstiently, whilst turning my kokutsu-dachi. And i could feel the force 'n speed in it. You did me recall that, thanks, i am back to training recently. Warm hugs from Brazil
  • Laurence Lance
    In general you are on the right track but there is much more to look at and much more to understand. It is true the heel model for power is not based on science. It is also true that hip rotation is not only unnecessary to generate great power. Hip rotation is almost completely irrevelent in the generation of power. As to Shotokan, look back. Where did it come from. That will be your answer Best Wishes Laurence Lance Nanadan Matsumura Karate Kempo Kubodo.
  • Clark
    I need some clarification here, is he saying to rotate on the back heel while punching or throwing a technique? Or just just turning on the heel in General when changing directions?
  • Peter
    I trained in Okinawa, I was never taught to pivot on your heel, as in stepping always on the ball of the foot, and for your information in Okinawa all front kicks are done with the big toe, the ball of the foot came into use for sport and the westerners, GI's, that includes all styles, Shorinryu, Gujuryu and Uechiryu.
  • Shiro
    Great video Jesse-san, very enlightening. I learned to turn over the metatarsus, at both Budo I practice, Goju-ryu and Aikido. But in both I´ve been taught not to elevate the heel when going forward. In Aikido during a throw, for example, one should maintain both heels on the ground not to loose balance and fall together the opponent (if something got stuck or he could manage to hold you). But again, this is for maintaining the balance and not for generate power. Even the walk is with most of the foot on the ground, like one is dragging the foot. Which make sense, IMHO. In Goju-ryu the foot is not "dragged" but I learned not to elevate the heel when turning the hips to punch, something about joint alignment. Which made sense, but now... Maybe not. lol.
  • Juan Alfred Rodriguez
    I think there was a seminar I attended that he didnt actually like practicing using the Heian Kata as it wasnt that realistic. He preferred doing all stances and upper body techniques in the same place, ie., he can move from Zenkutsu Dachi to Kokutsu Dachi to Kiba Dachi to Shiko Dachi to Sochin Dachi, etc. Very innovative!
  • Chris Collins
    This is just another example of how pathetic the martial arts have become since the mid 1960's. Prior to that NO ONE ever taught to turn or spin on their heel. The real masters all taught differently. I think this error in technique for Karate stems from someone who was also exposed to one of many schools of Kung Fu (before it was outlawed in China) or Taiqi. They have always believed that for full "jing" to be achieved the heel must be planted so the power goes to the striking point, then back to the heel, then is bounced back again to reinforce the qi power of the attack. But the Okinawans and later the Japanese (before the decline in teaching the basics which haven't been taught by 95% of practitioners in years - since none of them were ever taught them) never taught or practiced such moves. Hard to believe how fast this nonsense spreads.
    • Neville Harris
      I don't know what styles of Kung Fu you've been studying, but the Kung Fu and Tai Chi, that I've been learning, are much more "organic" and spontaneous than what you have described. We don't learn to 'always route the power through the heel' but that sometimes it is routed through the heel, sometimes through the middle of the foot, and sometimes through the ball of the foot; and this depends on what is happening at the moment of impact (because the opponent is always moving and the conditions are always changing). You have to get a feel for this through hours of "Sticky Hands" training; it's not an "always do it like this" thing. I also practice Shito Ryu, and try to incorporate that Kung Fu "feel" into my Kata.
  • Ralf
    Oh my goodness! Sorry for using bad words Jesse-San, but what "Sensei" Maurino says is bullshit! that just shows that he has not much plan about biomechanics of Karate nor about the moving principles. but who am i to to enlighten such a "great master". i won't care to elaborate and let his brain cook in his own juice. stupid Shotokan guy... i'm done with those... people
    • Its all about sport Karate, if you can call it that.
  • Peter
    First of all anyone who is practicing Shotokan karate, is practicing sport karate, and if you think different then you are just fooling yourself. Shotokan just as Judo and Taekwono was created as a sport and to look beautiful (A Japanese thing) by Funakoshi Gichin Sensei and his son and later expanded as a sport by Kanazawa etc. As to all you know it all Masters on this blog, all Okinawan front snap kicks were originally done with the big toe, as more and more westerners took up Karate, the ball of the foot was incorporated by them since they obviously did not want to put the effort into training with toe kicks. Any combat oriented art just as boxing etc. is done in a more upright stance for mobility, not as Shotokan with deep stances, which in Shotokan is used for strengthening the legs, but what you practice daily in your kata you will also incorporate into your automatic habits habits.
    • Laurence Lance
      Peter you are correct about Shotokan being a sport system but look further back than Funakoshi. He had reasons to teach the Japanese in the non Okinawan way, and to limit the type and understanding of the kata he taught. He altered the kata from what how he learned and from what he taught to other Okinawa students. There were multiple reasons toe kicks were not taught.
      • Peter
        Laurence, yes you are correct, in many ways he did not have a choice but to conform to the Japanese ways, otherwise his Karate would not have been accepted in Japan. Just as the Kiai was never used in Kata in Okinawa at the time Funeskoshi was teaching in Japan, it was incorporated by Funeskoshi because in all japanese martial arts it was used. Eventually it was also incorporated in Okinawa.
        • Peggy
          Peter, I don't understand what you mean by Kiai not being used in Okinawa, how is that and why? Kiais are very difficult for me when I concentrate. I find that I am always counting for where the Kiai belongs. Breathing correctly is hard and the Kiai is harder. Because I'm such an old beginner and slow learner the Kiai feels like a separate action, a kind of move. I understand it as a gathering and exploding out of energy in a move. (For the record I am an way older beginner.) Please if you have time, explain to me the history, purpose and rational for the Kiai. Osu, Peggy
  • Hello Jesse-san My training in Okinawa has always had me turn on the ball of the foot, more specifically on the ball of the 1st (or big) toe. It is a faster and safer way as has been written about for a long time. In fact, there are many sprains that can happen if you do spin on you ankle. It is dangerous to try to do it on the entire ball of the foot which is why classically trained dancers spin on the head of the 1st metatarsal. Biomechanics is really not that complicated if you look at injury reports from the CDC and understand basic physics, human gross anatomy and histology (how tissues appear in microscopes). When I have shown pictures and data in my work, most people understand it. I am fortunate to teach Clinical Anatomy to Doctoral students so get to read articles on biomechanics, injuries and all aspects of the human body.
  • Karato
    I learned many enlightening principles in Karate. The most essential was that the nukleus of any style is the conformity to it. I also saw many massters who told the most trivial things to the pupils. For example that you have to turn on your balls on the heels or other on the middle of the feet. But none of them said that you should trust on your own feeling of the movement. And none of the pupils would dare to trust on their own experience and feelings because especially in karate pupils were educated to do nothing of their own accord. Because the main japanese virtue "wa" - the harmony - allows no deviations. For some it is nearly religious faith to trust such enlightened masters. For others it may be pure opportunism because without conformity you dont get your black sash. What will you do when your trainer says turning on footballs is not karate? The balls - the heels - the middle. All the same.
  • In 15 years of Goju-ryu I've never heard of turning on the heel. Our pivoting is done on the ball of the foot in sliding motions keeping as much of the foot in contact with the floor for stability. The only time I can think we pivot on the heel is when going from Heisoku dachi into Musubi dachi. We teach keeping the back heel on the floor during stances like Zenkutsu dachi so that there's a solid line all the way from your punch through your body, into your hip, leg and eventually the floor. With the whole body solid against a solid floor the punch should be strong. The idea is that lifting your heel creates a gap between your body and the floor which can act as a shock absorber where you don't want it.
    • That is entirely accurate when examining a static stance. When moving however, things get a bit different. If you've ever heard the term "turn on your heel" you'll know what I mean. And if you've been in the military you'll have some idea of what this actually means (ie. from marching)! "Turning on your heel" is an expression that refers to a sudden reversal of movement. Imagine stepping forward then, just as your heel lands, turning and running. Pivoting occurs during movement. Yes, there will be more times when your weight is on your toes (since that is what we try to do in karate for stability as well as strength) but there are times during movement when your weight has been taken off your toes and put on the heel - leaning back is just one example. In the latter case, if you had to turn, and if the turn required a pivot on the front foot (where the weight is distributed over the heel) it would make as much sense to doggedly try to pivot on the toes as it does to pivot on the heel of your supporting foot in, say, mawashi geri! In other words, there is a time and place for everything, including heel pivots.
  • Antonis Tzounis
    I am really sad that a well-put approach on how to do something in the art we all love (hopefully) it ends up in an anti-shotokan quarrel with many rude comments and expressions that, in my hamble opinion, have nothing to do with budo. Calm down people! If you nothing good or relative to say to the topic don't say anything bad or negative. Peace ...
  • Laurence Lance
    I'm not reading this as an anti Shotokan discussion. Rather it is a search for enlightenment. That Funakoshi is the father of Japanese karate, which became known as Shotokan is simply fact. The intentional misdirection of kata and karate does not, in my 40 plus years of research, began with Funakoshi but does bear directly to the interaction with Japan. Truth is truth, no matter where it comes from. Sometimes these truths are funny, sometimes not. One funny truth is that the original "black belt" came from the Judo master Jiro Kano about 1904. Everyone started with a white belt. When the belt got dirty it became a "black" belt. It's a bit like the difference between a cowboy with nice new duds and the old guy with worn out gear, tattered but repaired cloths and a beat up old hat. The old guy will get you to the mountains, and back, pretty much no matter what.
    • Karato
      Again these old wives' tales... When the white belts of japanes become grey they *wash* it! Funakoshi presented the first black belts to his pupils only as a sign to be teachers now. For exaple Osuka Hironori the founder of wadoryu got 1. dan 1924 (http://www.kaizen.nl/?c=2) an he never got a higher rank. Karate after becoming a japanese export hit made the black sash as a cult object.
  • Hi Jesse! Yes indeed - most pivoting should be done on the ball of foot (ie your "toes"). In karate I was never taught differently. But are there times when you should pivot on the heel? Absolutely! http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/a-pivotal-question.html
  • Ian
    Hmm ... a hot topic, it seems. I never knew other karate-ka were being taught to turn on the heel until I read this article. I have always been taught to turn, ideally on the "middle" of the foot, and while while working toward that goal, to turn on the ball of the foot. As for keeping the back heel down when delivering a punch ... ... I was taught to do that, not because the "force" comes from the floor, but to provide a "solid base" (it's about proper alignment throughout the body, not just "heel down") so that the force which I have generated and delivered to my opponent is not (equal and opposite reaction) absorbed back into me. (Hope I explained that in a way that makes sense..) As for keeping the heel down when stepping ... I rather suspect that is encouraged not so much as an end in itself, but as a 'short form' way of getting students closer to more complex ideas.
    • Likewise Ian. I cover the "middle of the foot" argument in my article.
  • will
    I had no idea that some styles advocate turning on the heel - we were always taught to pivot on the ball of the foot. I just tried it and it feels weird and I feel it in my knee caps!
    • If your weight is over your toes, of course it will hurt your knee cap! However if your weight is over your heel (ie. you're forced to turn just as you're rocking back off your front leg - or you're forced to turn just as you extend your foot in a step and your heel makes contact with the ground as per "toe/heel") then this is a different story. Again, I cover the science in my article above.
  • Jim Dodrill
    Lucio's background is in Shito Ryu. His area of expertise is kata. This is the context from which he speaks. As far as I am aware, no Shotokan group, even the JKA teach that you should fight on your heels. Always the balls of your feet. Kata is different to kumite. It is much more static and the bunkai of kata point to a situation where there is no warning of an attack, could take place on an uneven surface and therefore the defence is carried out without the luxury of switching to a kamae position on the front of the feet. I spent many years working security in pubs and nightclubs and have seen many fights. My observation is that most fights are executed in a very upright, heel down stance, often in confined or restricted spaces where heel rotation could have an advantage over the front of the foot. I believe that this is the scenario that the masters envisaged when teaching kata. Just my humble opinion.
    • Neville Harris
      I agree with you. The ancient Kata were designed for self-defense application, not for ring fighting or competition Kumite. In that sense, you're only fighting if an attacker is coming in at you (i.e. if they're not coming in at you, there is no need to move forward to fight them - in a self defense context). When an attacker is coming in at you, you can absorb the impact of a reverse-punch, for example, into the heel of the rear foot because there is no need for you to move forward - all momentum is coming from the attacker. In a ring-fighting type situation, there is a completely different dynamic because you need to go on the offensive; in that context, it is more effective to lift the heel when punching / striking etc.
      • Laurence Lance
        Sport karate is largely an invention of the early 1960s, although there are traces of it some years earlier. I know. I was there. Actual combat is a dynamic and fluid environment of constant twisting, turning, shifting and movement side to side, forward and back. It is not static in any way. In general a good idea is it's very difficult to control the ground behind one's self and so for this reason any backward movement is discouraged. A side to side, or forward angled movement is a far better practice. It is possible, with some luck, to slip a punch by turning or folding, but there is far too much power in any properly executed strike for the energy to simply be "absorbed". As we age we come to understand that conservation of energy, and time, expended to accomplish a given task is a critically important skill. This is the fundamental of all high level effort.
        • Neville Harris
          I think that possibly I didn't express myself clearly enough: I didn't mean that you should absorb an incoming punch; I meant that, if an attacker was coming in at you and you hit him with, say, a reverse-punch, the force of your punch impacting his incoming body, or face, would be taken up by the heel of your rear foot (i.e. you don't need to "chase" him because he is already coming at you). If the guy is not actually attacking you, but is merely "sparring" with you (as is likely in a sportive / ring fight), then you are more likely to need to use offensive punches where it is better to raise the heel - of your rear foot - off the floor (for more power). In a real self-defense situation, you don't need to 'fight' anyone unless they are attacking you; if they are bobbing around, retreating, and generally 'sparring' with you then you can just walk away from the situation. Of course, your description of real combat is true, but I'm just saying what I think Karate kata was originally devised to cope with (i.e. defense against a real attack). As to the issue of whether Karate is the best form of training for real unarmed combat, well that's another question...
    • Marius
      If you dont use your heels you lose all power in your punch. In JKA we our heels. This is demonstrated and testes over and over in every club and gashuku as more powerfull. But lets not misunderstand that we say you should fight on your heels in kumite. There we all stand on our toeballs. But to maximize power in your tsukis, you need to plant your heels in the ground. Without them you are unable to expnd your hamstrings with 100% force, to drive your hip Into the punch. Rotation alone does not make a strong punch without a solid fundamentation. This whole article sounds like an excuse to get away from hard work.
      • Mokita
        Actually, not one JKA senior instructor at HQ Honbu I've ever trained with has told me to turn on my heels. And I've trained with chief instructor Ueki, Osaka, Mori, Shiima, Hanzaki, Takahashi, Hirayama, Okuma, and younger instructors such as Shimizu & Ueda. And they all say the same thing about turning. Make it fast and use contraction / expansion. No heel or toe or whatever. It's only western instructors that blare on about heel this and heel that. Turning on your toes can lead to bad habits in balance which is why it's not encouraged at beginner/ intermediate level. But advanced? .. It's all about the contraction and balance of the body and the feet must be free to accommodate that with no interference or restriction. Which is what you are doing by giving yourself only one option. Now I'm not saying no heel in throwing out a gyaku Tsuki for example as it can offer much more power than on my toes. But that technique is only effective as a static one. Which as you say in Kumite you have to drift the foot off the ground for distance and dropping your height (although I've seen many Japanese doing Gyaku Tsuki getting their back knee to the ground whilst keeping their heel on the ground!). In the JKA instructor manual it states that hips have to parallel to the ground (reasons for this are for another thread perhaps). This is impossible whilst turning on your heel, as you're 'falling' forward. And turning on the ball does the exact opposite so no good either. The most effective way is using your whole foot as a pivot and turning on the centre of the foot. This offers your foot to be a parallel axle point offering speed, balance and stability which is all you want in a turn. If you want to strike from the post turning position/ pre strike position- you can quite easily lunge with your heel planted if you so wish but not during the turn itself. Here's a little exercise to practice. Try standing on your heels for as long as you can. 5 seconds? Then stand on your toes, little longer yes? Now stand normal on the centre of your foot. This should tell you everything you need to know about maintaining correct balance. Why work against your body? Here are two videos - one is current JKA kata champ Kurihara performing Heian Shodan slowly & at speed. The other vid is a JKA 7 & 9 year old. Make up your own mind at what's being taught in Japan JKA. Kurihara - http://youtu.be/jEdOcxj3U6c Kids - http://youtu.be/SDgAI1N-sZE
  • Shorin Ryu teaches use the heel and ball of foot for turning. Chinto kata has a 360 degree turn on the heel. Every first move of the Pinan kata from Itosu, to Chibana to Nakama uses turning on the heel. As I shared earlier which part of the foot that you turn on depends on the turning of the waist. All Shorin Ryu on Okinawa utilizes the waist twist to begin the whipping action. Often it is said we do not turn on the heel or toes because the feet are turned by the waist.
    • Paul
      Certain groups of Shito-Ryu may advocate turning on the heel, but ours does not. We teach turning on the ball of the foot. Even in the 360 spin in Chinto (love that kata..) we do it with the ball of the foot. We also teach that all movement starts with the ge-tanden. In our group, I can't think of any kata that start with a turn on the heel or any other turns for that matter.
    • Mokita
      Completely agree. It all depends on the technique being delivered and position of your opponent.
  • For those who don't have time to read my (I know - lengthy!) article on this subject, maybe my video will provide a clue as to why there are indeed times we will all pivot on the heel as opposed to the ball of the foot. Yes, it's all about science. http://youtu.be/I4qCJ7NWjIY
    • Neville Harris
      I've read the whole of your excellent article, and I agree with you.
  • Jack Cyp
    Very interesting thread here.. But I guess what is being focus here is the 'Turning' during the performance of Kata. Turning as in when you kick, especially Mawashi Geri definately one need to used the ball of the feet. My 2 cents worth.
  • Lucio Maurino
    Hi to everyone, thanks a lot for your comments. I'm Karateka from 35 years coming from Shotokan style (actually I have 5 WKF World Titles (Kata Team), 11 European Titles (Kata team and Individual) and 30 Italian Titles (Kata and Kumite). From 15 years I'm involved also in Shito and Goju styles. So i define myself a Karateka (not a Kata man). Besides from 5 years I'm involved also in Jujitsu, Aikido and Military Selfe Defence (it's my job, I'm policeman !!). I understand that in 3 minutes is very difficult to explain many years of study due to the movement of the human body (I've a Science Degree with many specialization seminars) but what I can add to my interview is: The human body moves in a complex game of forces which involves the entire voluntary body musculature and interests the support on the ground (foot). It can move by exerting a force on a link and, for human body, the link is the ground. So while turning (pivoting), finding the right balance on the stance (feet) giving pressure to the ankles, the force is exerted by using the ball of the foot (1st metatarsus) - not just the heel. So using heels while turning is at least downright incorrect to achieve the final ideal biomechanical posture (rapidity and precision). This principle is applied in all Sports, all Karate styles (not in Shotokan JKA) and the most of Martial Arts. PS: we are talking about "PIVOTING" that concerns mechanics applied to human body (biomechanichs) not personal ideas without scientific applications. Thanks again for your attention and thanks to Jesse san for his fantastic website. Onegai shimasu
    • Thank you sensei Maurino, for personally taking your time to elaborate and clarify for my readers. I know they really appreciate it - although cognitive dissonance sometimes clouds "linguistical judgement" in comment sections like these. Like we discussed earlier, this is the reason you should write a book. Grazie mille!
    • leo
      So "ideal biomechanical posture" is the measure you choose. And your point is that pivioting on the balls of the foot is the ideal use of human body mechanics. Is this correct? I second, you certainly have to write a book. Thanks for you researching karate.
    • Alex
      In all my 35 years of Karate, starting with Shitoryu under an 8th Dan, then Shotokan under KUGB 6th Dan (Ex-England team member in the year it won the world championship) and then Okinawan Goju-ryu under a 7th Dan Shihan, never have one of them ever taught turning on the heel. You can tell from all the comments here that you were taught wrongly. It's great you discovered it and corrected it yourself. Keep it up.
  • Jaakko
    Wow, judging by the amount of comments, this is a hot topic indeed. As mention in previous posts, at least in goju-ryu (Meibukan being my branch of choice), its always the ball of the foot. The one exception I can think of is the seventh? movement in gekisai-ichi/ni, stepping up from the gedan barai into the chudan uchi uke. Never knew there even was this "classic" heel turn. Solid article, keep em coming!
  • Donnatello
    In Goju we rotate on the ball of the foot, and of course our stances are always knees bent. The article reminded me that I really, really, really need to practice sanchin walking A LOT more. Loved the video too. Thanks!
  • Very Nice post and many good comments. I enjoyed Reading this. I can say that in Kukkiwon style Taekwondo we are taught to use the ball of the foot for all turns and pivoting. This is done in Our forms, basics and free sparring. In freesparring we are taught to always be on the ball of the foot the heel is never or rarely planted during free sparring (I am talking about the Olympic style sparring as self defense sparring is very different). I never knew that some Karate students were taught to turn on their heels though, that was New for me. In Taekwondo turning on Your heel is generally frowned upon.
  • Basically I think the can be summarised this way: there is no "classic karate heel pivot" - not that I'm aware of. But it isn't "scientifically wrong" to pivot on the heel and there are indeed instances where you would (and should) do so. The fact that karate is structured so as to avoid those instances is what is at issue. So I agree with the video, but caution against any sweeping conclusions.
    • Rich Benett
      Exactly. A time and a place.
  • Ralph
    I find it hard to understand all this. Is this a "general principle" to be applied at all times and to all dachi waza? Or does it apply to a specific set of movements/instances and or dachi waza? In (Shotokan) Kokutsu dachi, is it even possible to turn on the ball of the foot while maintaining dachi precision and performance speed (see e.g. Kanku Dai opening movements)? Thanks.
    • Jack Cyp
      Hey there Ralph.. I hope you dont mind me asking.. What 'Style' are you? If you are Shotokan.. you'll find that the opening for Kanku Dai which is on a Kokutsu Dachi, you'll find that it is faster if you do it on the heel my friend.
      • Ralph
        That's exactly my point - thanks.
  • Dan
    Apparently some of the commenters are not reading other comments. The comment that there are no "classical" kata that have turns on the heel would indicate that they did not read my post on the Pinan kata. All Pinan kata from Itosu begin with turning on the heel. Turning on the heel is prevalent through out all Pinan kata from Itosu. The only Okinawan version of Pinan that does not turn on the heel is Matsubayashi Ha. Nagamine Shoshin changed the beginning of each kata by stepping away and turning to a cat stance. Itosu Pinan all turn toward the left and then right on the heel. The reason the turn is on the heel is the width and angle of the feet. The feet are shoulder width apart and pointed outward 45 degrees. The waist/hips turn first and the foot follows the waist/hip movement which makes the heel the pivot point. The point made that Goju Ryu does not turn on the heel is incorrect. There are several examples of Goju Ryu kata turning on the heel. The reason there is less points of Goju Ryu turning on the heel is the length of the stances. Goju Ryu predominantly pulls and pushes and this requires a longer, deeper stance. Again, the reason for turning on the heel is directly related to the width of the feet when beginning the waist/hip movement. The waist/hips move the foot not the foot moving the leg and then waist. By moving the foot first you will lose most of the whipping action of the waist/hips. Gambatte Dan
    • Donnatello
      One thing (amongst a bazillion other things) that I've learned from my teacher is, when teaching a kata or technique, students will often ask if "this is how its always done". The answer I give is, "so far it is" and by that I mean that at my current level, at their current level it is so. But having not advanced to the point of having ALL the forms and techniques in our style, I can't say "yes its always that way". For goju, at my level at least, there are no turns on the heel. :)
  • Chito-Ryu practitioner here. We practice both and also a hybrid at higher levels. For quick 180 changes it depends on if the technique delivered is an attack or defense. To defend we pivot on ball...moving heels away and shifting backwards an inch or two for tai sabaki. For offense we pivot on heels to move into opponent...but timing must be fast (sen no sen) and fully planted before executing. For our high level Rin Ten and Han Ten we challenge to shift on the centre of the foot....but I've not been able to successfully do this.
    • Goju Ryu, Shurite and Neijia practitioner for 51 years. Mr Feener, you at last have finally got the true essence of the footwork for maximising the nature of motion in which direction. The direction and function dictates at times which part of the foot is used in position. Finally, I see that you have got the magic of the Genie that distance of the fist is enhanced by how you move your foot....move on the ball and your body shifts back move it on the heel and your body shifts forward, not bad when considering defence or attack.
  • Clif
    I have found exactly one reason that I consider valid for using heel-turns: controlling the distance. If I start at a given distance from an opponent and I need to turn (either to face him, or to change my angle for a technique), if I turn on the balls of my feet I automatically increase the distance between us. If I turn on my heels, I maintain the distance.
  • Daniel
    Let's forget about styles for a moment. We start from a "ready" stance (yoi) facing forward, then we prepare for a gedan barai to the left side, simultaneously turning our head to the left, preparing both arms the way we think it's best (and by the way widening the back to drive the movement of our arms is something IMO we all should look into, and things would obviously be even more complicated than that...) and rotating our right foot towards the left. Now: if we do that pivoting on the ball on the foot, this (IMHO) doesn't help at all to "load" our technique, whereas if we pivot on the heel there's a feeling of "technique loaded", i.e. internal pressure increased and subsequent natural and almost effortless release while stepping towards the left with our beautiful gedan barai. To do that we also have to send our "intention" to the left and imagine to be pushed on our entire left-hand side (this loads the "spring" as well). Sorry, it's a bit difficult for me to explain this in english. Am I the only one who can feel this? And... in what way this would be not scientific? As already said, I think we shouldn't generalize.
  • A while ago, for my own information, I did a pubmed search on fractures, dislocations, and other injuries of the foot. There are many sprains in the ankle and knee which result from rotating on a flat foot or heal. One type of fracture of the foot if the lateral (outside) of the foot is used but not if the foot bone attached to the big toe (a special one from marching with a heavy bag was seen) I cannot remember all the incidences but will do the research had have an article ready in a week if anyone is interested.
  • Ian
    Ultimately, I see a lot of thoughtful comments from different people above who, ultimately, all agree on one thing: one ought to think about what one is doing, understand what one is doing, and investigate the best way to do what one wants to be doing, when one does one's karate. I didn't really see anyone saying "we should do it the way we have always done it ... because ... Sensei tells us to do it that way ... because ... that's tradition ... because ... shut up and train." There may be differences of opinion arising from all that critical thinking, and that's fine. Actually, that's a "Good Thing", because the quickest way we all get to the best answer is if we share our different attempts at really good answers and the knowledge and learning behind them, and try to sift through for the best bits of everyone.
  • Okay, I've been spurred into writing something about this again. Please note the "easy to digest" format! :D http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/7-basic-rules-for-pivoting.html
    • Jeremiah Boothe
      Dan, I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write such informative articles on the subject. I have learned a great deal about the usefulness of each form of pivoting from your articles and it has helped my own application tremendously. I was making the mistake of pivoting on the balls of my feet when throwing my reverse punch which was effectively weakening the forward force of my attacks. There were some other areas where I was using the wrong form of pivot and it was hindering my performance in some way or another. Your articles were excellent guides and my karate is improved because of your contribution here. Thanks again!
  • I just finished a quick research draft that suggest that Mr Maurino in partially correct but there is more to the story. It only has 5 references so far and would like to ask if anyone might comment on it to make it better. http://karatedr.com/is-there-a-best-pivot-point-for-spining-or-turning/
  • Dmitry
    No heel-turn in NSKF Shotokan. Never ever. I have always thought that in any style of karate we do like Maurino Sensei says. But... I'm surprised.
  • Michel Hua
    I am learning Kukkiwon Taekwondo too and was always taught to use the ball of the foot to pivot. The only exception when you pivot on your heels is "yop chagi"/"yoko geri". Since Taekwondo puts more emphasis on the kicking techniques in sparring (90% kicks), you have to be always in motion by jump-stepping and put weight on the balls of your feet to be able to react quickly. A 7th dan master told me one day that Taekwondo had better stances than Shotokan (which had a strong influence on the martial art). He said after having studied Shotokan when he was young that Taekwondo had a more scientific and methodic approach in training techniques and in kihon. This is of course only an opinion. I don't entirely personally believe that Taekwondo is better than Shotokan but this is interesting. This is part of the reason I am reading your awesome blog by the way. :) - "The Textbook of Taekwondo Poomsae" is a good reference to study that further. It's a book about kata where everything is explained from the position of your fist to the space between your feet. - The tutorials on how to do the different kicks on Youtube should help too. Look at the ones made by the Koreans affiliated to the Kukkiwon. "Revolution of kicking" is a good reference too.
  • Jmail
    If you honestly believe this crap your a mongoloid. Not that this will get posted, god forbid there are any dissenters amongst the comments.
    • Ian
      Dissenters are welcome ... rude and insulting ones, though (especially if they offer no basis for their opinions and misuse "your" instead of "you're") are not.
    • Classy. Real classy, dude.
  • donnatello
    I hope you're referring to people from Mongolia because if you are referring to down syndrom people. ...welllthats just ignorat.
    • Neville Harris
      But surely it is also unacceptable if he is referring to people from Mongolia; that would be a case of blatant racism, would it not? Either way, that guy's comment is totally out of order...
  • Sivad
    If you turn on the balls of your feet on a mat you have greater chance of broken toes than turning on your heel... in kihon we get taught to use our heel, in free style kumite it comes naturally to move on the ball of your feet...in competition you use mats that can catch a toe or two.
  • David
    The idea of having your heel on the ground should not be to increase the power in your technique but to ensure that you are grounded and have a strong connection to the floor. This connection is the important thing and can be likened to a bamboo tree in a storm. The top part of the tree will sway but it will not break because it has strong roots in the ground. This principle can be applied to Karate so by keeping your heel on the ground, creating a stronger base for yourself so that you cannot be moved or as easily influenced by an opponent.
  • dj wickid
    Anyone else find it funny that when Dan Djurdjevic, i.e. someone who actually knows what they are on about comments- he gets ignored?
    • What I think is funny is that besides Michel Hua citing a TKD book, nobody has given any support to their opinion. As a professor of Life Science (teaching up to doctoral candidates) I will point out that these arguments have only opinion as their basis and are not scientific at all. Anyone who has come across a scientific article can vouch that they have a list of references pointing to data that supports their arguments. I would hope that people would get away from throwing the word Science without offering any evidence. Sorry if I offended someone but like I said I have dedicated my life to a career in science education and to see people from martial arts, an activity I respect and love showing ignorance is disheartening.
      • Michel Hua
        rh gutierrez, I am an engineer with a solid scientific background too. I think it's ok to use the word science which is also about doing research and making hypothesis. Jesse's article is mainly about body mechanics. I would like to share with you this fantastic quote from the epic movie Bloodsport : [discussion between Senzo Tanaka and Frank Dux's father] - Your son and my son are in the same school. Frank sees my son's skill and he desires to learn martial science, too. - Yes, but what do you mean by martial science? - Frank has told me you came to America to grow vines. - Yes, that's right. I work at the Verne vineyard. - I came here to grow fish in my hatchery. We both grow children. You use science to make vines grow better. Like vines, children need training. Martial science provides a way of training. It brings mind, body, spirit together. Martial science ! :-D
        • I agree that the article is correct thought could be more specific. What I am disappointed in is the throwing the word "Science" around without giving any support to the opinions expressed. Like I wrote earlier, you at least had a book cited, while I would prefer physics or ME journals are references. As these arguments are only opinions without any independent and reviewed sources the arguments either for or against and "Science" should not be used. As for "martial Science" Science, by definition is "a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences." (Dictionary.com) when we are spouting opinions it is not under this definition. Martial science would be adequate if some "body of facts" are used. Martial means military so when someone is spouting "Martial Science" they are neglecting the meaning of the words as Military Science is a specific science and even a major in some Universities. It is my experience that when people say "Martial Science" they are usually trying to claim that they teach a more rational version of Martial arts. What I have seen on the web is that when someone uses "Martial Science" for their art, it is usually filled with pseudo-science and claims of being based on "Chinese Medicine" yet the owner and teachers do not have a background in Chinese Medicine. The definition of art, as in Martial art or medicinal arts, means an application of techniques rather than something aethetic.
          • Laurence
            rh, thank you. Your's is one of the betterreasoned and better considered comments I've yet read.
  • Michael
    There are few hill-turn in Kobudo, however, clearly, Karatedo students and then their students completely misunderstood how to turn. There are thusands of such errors as many students, who become then masters, did just 2-3 years courses at original schools, so no chance to learn the art of Karate truly. Nevertheless, Jesse, I would like to question your scientific method: it is pointless to solve such issues with modern students, as they did not study the original, fighting system, just doing sports and selected techniques . I do not understand why we call it scientific approach-to correct errors that never existed in original schools of Karate by students of hectic students-especially that clearly and visibly some of them never punched anything harder than bathing sponge.
  • I have posted two previous comments that I thought would have brought some light on the subject of turning on the heel but it seems that in the "scientific approach" there has not been a look at the source to examine turning on the heel. If the source is Japanese karate the basis for understanding the physical movements are quire different from Okinawan or Chinese methods. In traditional/authentic Okinawa karate there are many instances in both karate and kobudo kata where turning on the heel is found. The turning on the heel is both a method of facilitating a full turning of the body and making a short turn forward. The part of the foot that is primarily used for turning is dictated by the position of the feet when you turn the waist in that the waist moves the body. Regardless of which part of the foot is used to faciliate the turning of the body in Okinawan karate the push of the heel into the ground is utilized. If the discussion is only based on Japanese karate then the subject should be titled a scientific approach to using the heel in Japanese karate.
  • phy
    If you want to use the law of conservation of momentum (and energy) while you hit the oponent, you have to place the heel on the floor. If not, the great amount of energy is dispersed.
  • pc
    I've trained in Shotokan for over 32 yrs and never heard this until recently. I've seen people that did reverse punches with the foot pointed out instead of pivoting forward and I pity their knees. Same for the people that pivot on their heel. When you pivot on the heel it is difficult to fully engage the hips. It is hard to bring the foot fully forward which frees the hips to fully rotate. Did you ever watch a baseball pitcher. They are a great example of speed and power. They pivot and put there body into it to the point that there rear foot comes off the ground. nuff said I think that they people that started the heel pivot where focusing on the defensive nature of punching. If someone is coming towards you then you would want to lock up and plant yourself. Otherwise there is no good reason for pivoting on the heel. Thanks guys this is truly important.
  • Daniel
    I've thought about this topic for a very long time. Thanks for the video!
  • Pete
    Maybe I'm just super ignorant but, I never thought anyone in traditional Karate turned on heel. I've always been taught and taught my students turn on the ball of the foot. *reinforcing your story* Its faster, Better balance, Less "grippy" then the Heel, etc (unless your are moonwalking)
  • Michael
    Name-san, I agree with you. I did not put attention on the variety of turnings at original, combat karate as I wanted to draw attention to the methodology of this science. To be frank, such errors did not exist at Okinawa karate-they practiced for long time as a combat system and got rid of not effective/ unhealthy techniques. I want to question the scientific method applied I shall depict as follows: take modern sportsman who never punched anything harder than bathing sponge during his entire carrier, (and who is not able to tighten his black belt accordingly as I can see) and make him an expert to correct combat system he has no idea about-bear in mind that post-Shotokan schools are using something like 40% of all orignal karate techniques being ignorant of remaining 60%. What kind of science is this- I create own errors then I correct them and become www karate expert-again, even if never punching anything else apart from own bathing sponge?
  • Osk
    Great guy Lucio Maurino I meet him a some years ago very kind person and knowledgeable person thanks for sharing this Jesse!
  • Great Article, Jesse! I got to your blog from the Master Ken's interview and kept reading. I've practiced Goju Ryu just one year but I have 15 years in Judo. I always try to use examples like the skiing one (I'm more a roller-blading guy) to explain how yo keep balance when walking and learning Kata or throws. I like your articles (specially the Mc Dojo one) and I'm sharing this one to my dojo buddies in order to improve ourselves. Bye!
    • That is so cool, Fransisco-san. Keep training and I'll keep writing! :)
  • Rab Neil
    Well here we go again. Do it this way do it that way?? I just found out recently through 'Karate by Jesse' interview with the great 'Soke Inoue Yoshimi - after using the ball of my feet for years that actually when I use my heel advised by Soke - it all falls into place quite naturally for me... My point is find out what works for you as an individual. That's the way to improve - everyone one is unique and cant possibly benefit from different types of techniques akin to individuals weight and height. Not to mention fitness and flexibility etc. My motto is 'comfort and velocity' regards Rab
  • If we're talking about shotokan here, it may be good to reference what is seemingly currently being taught to the JKA instructors in japan and what is being taught to and by JKA instructors in Europe. And they are two different things. In Europe, it is weight on heel and turn. In japan it is CENTRE of the foot. Not ball, or heel but centre. I have analysed 'current' JKA instructor videos of courses, competitions and Honbu instructionals inside out and most Honbu instructors do the same thing. They use the whole foot as a corkscrew and turn on the centre of the foot so that the weight neither goes forward or backward. So both the ball and heel are moving but the centre of the foot remains centred at all times during the turn. For example step 10 in Heian Shodan - as the hips and arms begin to be whipped round into rotation for the 270' turn, the front pivoting foot at first remains unmoved and anchored. Once tension on the hip, front knee and foot has been been reached due to the force and speed of the hips turning, the foot 'catches up' like an elastic band that has been stretched by whipping round on the centre of the foot which allows a shomen position to be quickly achieved thereby allowing the correct Hanmi of the hips for the hidari Gedan Berai. It requires marksman precision use of the hips and turning leg tension to avoid overturning but allows the (true Okinawan) 'neko ashi' position to be achieved after the turn and before the sinking into the block. Interesting, right? Perhaps another one of those little secrets that JKA likes to keep to themselves.
  • dextro
    "BILLIONS of years????" You're joking, right? Karate has NOT been practiced for "billions" of years.
  • Sven
    I also do Goju Ryu and I also turn by using my toes and the ball of my foot - I have never used my heel before in turning because it doesn't make sense to me. I'm a firm believer in "listening to your body" and your body is a clever little machine that likes choosing the path of least resistance. There's a reason for that... and it is secretly programmed into our subconscious 'mainframe'.. Anyway, not to drift off topic, I never pivot before I turn. I just don't like the idea of it - any explanation as to why? The only stances I can think of where you actually put the most pressure on your heal, is Neko Ashi dachi, Kokutsu dachi and Shiko dachi. Those are all defensive stances. So the way I see things in my mind is that, if the stance has more pressure on the back of the foot, that stance is used to create a nice, solid grounding to effectively block something... So why would anyone think that it is a good idea to use a Fudo-like, somewhat immovable, stance to move with? Thank you Jesse san for this insightful read.
  • Shalmi
    We have been told to keep the same height while turning or moving and to move on your toes
  • Hi everybody, I've been practicing shotokan for some 20 years and i've been always taught to turn on heels. Why? What I think is: if I turn is because I need to change direction to attack or to respond to an attack. If I turn on the heel my energy will be completely toward the opponent, if I turn on the toes your heel will move backward so you will be loosing ground. Is different when I have to rotate your foot to, for example, do a mawashigeri kick. In this case for the same reason would be optimal turn on the toes but to keep perfect balance seems like center of the foot is the way. Oss!
  • gyffes
    Heel turner, here, and for largely the same reasons as have been espoused: eliminate backwards motion. When you fire an automatic pistol, the slide rocks back, the backwards force diminishing slightly (negligibly?) the bullet's power to control the gun's rise and to load the next bullet. We lack a bullet's power, so ANY loss backwards serves no purpose. I learned this years back in both TKD and shito ryu and was never corrected otherwise in years of shorin ryu. (note: my fighting stance definitely was balls of feet; it's really only in deep form/stances that I adhered to heel turn). Now that I study bagua and taichi, I can see the application even better as power delivery is not dependent 'pon hip rotation but on connection to the ground and uninterrupted delivery of that ground to the target. In these styles, rising onto the balls of the feet is such a significant nono because you lose that critical sense of root and balance which are the core principles of these arts. Having said that, when we DO spin (lot of light-body action in bagua), we are on the ball of the foot but only BARELY.. the goal is to lighten the foot but keep the entire footbed touching the floor to facilitate rapid direction changes. Also, pivoting the heel backwards from the ball of the foot is an excellent way, as others have noted, of creating a tiny amount of extra space 'tween you and an opponent. Mostly excellent discussion, a real rarity online.
  • gyffes
    Drat -- meant to add: when I ski POWDER, I definitely shift my weight backwards to prevent my tips from being buried. Not the best analogy, Jesse!
  • Sam
    I practice Santeria. We can't be bothered by the use of feet at all. We hover over the ground in a semi-transcendental state.
    • gyffes
      OOooh, can you do the stretchy-limbs and firebreathing, too? That was my favorite Street Fighter guy, too!
  • Paul Botha
    I'm wondering if this is not perhaps a bit of a non-issue. Its horses for courses, really. On the one hand, when I do a 270 degree pivot in Heian shodan (Shotokan's first *non-sporting* kata) the natural pivot point seems to me to be the heel of the foot. Since my body is apparently designed to move forwards, and the balls of the feet deal with forward weight transfer, the rules for my basic primate forward lumber would not apply to an anti- clockwise spin to the right. On the other hand, if you do not rotate through 180 degrees on the ball when doing mawashi-geri, you are going to damage knees and hip joints.
  • Irwin Chen
    Sizzling topic! I pivot with my heel. In my opinion, it has to do with following: Rooting (this covers an entire chapter by itself) Centre of Gravity (imaginary line starting from the crown of the head) However, with the style I practice, turning on the ball of the foot is also necessary by lifting the heel slightly off the ground to execute a quick spin (sweep) without sacrificing 'the feeling of rootedness' if that makes sense. Cheers!
  • I have been turning on the balls of my feet now for several years, and can tell you from personal experience - my knees have thanked me for it. I almost blew out a knee when I was learning Chinto, because we were expected to turn on the heel. Doing those turns in Chinto over and over and over on the heels, is an adventure in excruciating pain. The funny thing is, one Renshi told me that if my Kata made my body hurt (more than normally) - I wasn't doing it "right." I'll take "improper" footwork to save my knees.
  • I guess many things have been said since you post this, and one interesting is that you posted 42 advices from Inoue Sensei in which are included HEEL TURN ! So this thing is far from being clear yet.
  • Paul Botha
    I've been thinking that it also has to do with what you are trying to achieve with the pivot. From a human movement perspective, the ball and toes seem to be used to brake or steady movement once the heel has been involved. As in walking or running slowly. Take a standard Heian/Pinan 270 degree anti-clockwise turn. (lets not get into the wisdom of dealing with an incoming attack or target from the right by turning you back on it...) Is the heel the best tool to finish and steady this turn? I propose that it has something to do with the direction of the turn as well, and the fact that you are not pitching your mass forward. Also, in that same turn, you end up in a different position relative to the target/attacker depending on whether you heel-turned or ball of foot turned.
  • Jay
    See, this makes perfect sense, because when i was younger i practiced shaolin kung fu, weather it was a mc dojo or not i don't know, i know the master of my master (not giving his name) was not taken seriously by other shaolin schools so i dunno, stuff i learned there seemed to work for me, ne way, when we would throw side kicks he never had up pivot our foot, merely step over in front of the kicking foot or behind infront of the kicking foot before delivering the kick, but to do it in one solid motion, i didn't even know what pivoting was till i was practicing Gyodokan kaizen kenpo karate under that master which he always stressed pivoting which i never felt comfortable doing, and also he had this side kick which involved turning your hip downward and driving your heal into the opponent, this was his side kick, it was like we where going from a side kick to a back kick midway through the motion and never made sense to me cuz when i did it my leg couldn't get very high and when turning down it put your back against enemies, which is never good, i dunno, but yeah this was an interesting article.
  • Alex
    I guess I was just generally lucky with this, but in our dojo we always have been taught to turn on the ball of the foot. I never really understood why though until know, so thanks!
  • Hi, Jesse: I actually believe that force and power are a culmination of many things where the actual rotational (rotation twist at the waist/hip girdle) with linear acceleration (body mass movement in the appropriate direction) is a combination of both that body mass movement and the "Enhancing properties" of the rotational accelerant to make for power and force provided we don't bleed off our force and power (energy) by improper application of physiokinetics. Regardless, your article is outstanding and provides a superior articulation of what it all means. Regards, Charles
  • Pasquale Mazzotta
    Hi, well I don't agree with this article, except the pizza :) >>> You see, last week I visited sensei Maurino’s international training camp (‘Karate Allstars’) in Italy for a fun-filled weekend of world-class pizza eating hardcore training, and during a short break I decided to ask him about this specific topic. Although many masters advocate it, to use the heel as pivot point or “almighty source of power” just didn’t feel right to me… no matter how much I practiced! You assume that the heel is not the pivot point, and that weight is not to be put on the heel. But I think that never was said so from the ancestors. The fact that all the foot has to be in contact with the ground, so also the heel (and you cana sk your phisioterapist), doesn't mean that the weight of the body is on the heel. It should be in the center of the foot, a bit on the metatarsus. This is why asian people speak about a point in the center of the foot, from which energy rises. Of course you can use the path that you say, but to turn the heel for example in giaky tsuki, is not to push from the ground, to have a reaction from the ground that you lead to your punch (in this case of course it is better to raise the heel as you say), but only to orient the structure of your body in the same direction, because is not from the heel that you get the power of the punch. That's why in kata the Ancient Masters didn't raise the heel, because their intention was not to use the reaction from the ground as a source of power. Others did, but in fact it was completely other way to use the body
  • Javier F U
    Dear Jesse, Inoue Sensei says "Use your heels. Turn on your heels. Step from your heels. Always keep your weight above your heels. This keeps your shoulders relaxed and your knees unlocked, which allows for snappy and quick movements". (42 Secrets I Learned From The World’s Greatest Kata Coach). You can see Rika Ugami use it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN0s_S1Wz7s&feature=youtu.be&t=1m53s. Osaka Sensei use it. My Sensei teach us to use it, of course not always but we use it. Best regrads. Oss
  • Ben
    I think this is fascinating and makes perfect sense, not just biologically, but energetically as well. Along with Karate (from the age of 7) I have ventured into and studied principles of the internal martial arts of China (taijiquan, xingyiquan, baguazhang). Basically, the weight of the body should always, no matter what position is taken or action is being performed, be maintained directly over the acupuncture point yongquan (K1). Otherwise, proper balance, capability of effective movement, stance, root, speed, alignment, power generation, even your kime are all diminished, impaired or completely lost. This makes so much sense. Duh.
  • Syafiq Afandi
    Hi, I'm Syafiq Afandi from Malaysia. This is very very interesting and have the same concept as what my sensei taught me. My Sensei also told that when we rotate to any direction in certain stances like Neko-ashi dachi in Heian kata (I'm from Shito-Ryu btw), we have to rotate using our ballfoot because we are actually performing an invisible uke called "Kara Uke". It is actually to create distances between our body with any attacks by shifting our body from one place to another. It can only be done by rotate using our ballfoot. An Uke that has no form. At first, I just understand that this why we need to turn using our ballfoot. But, after reading this, I became more and more understand why. Thanks for posting such useful articles! Keep it up!
  • The preference of having the heels to the ground was used in Shaolin as a means by which the body connects with the earth's force of gravity to anchor the body while exerting force. This, for instance, prevents the force from your own punch sending you bouncing away from your target and also calms the mind due to the earth's Yin force flowing through the body when it is comfortably grounded. In Wudang arts like Taijiquan and Hsingyiquan we find that it also corresponds with the Taoist teaching of not "standing on tiptoe" which refers to unnecessary strain. In Hsigyi and Taiji, however we find that a "following step" is sometimes used to focus the power of a direct thrusting attack. This step does not only involve the rear heel raising, but also the pulling in of the rear leg as the fighter thrusts.The supporting foot then can't be on its ball because not only shall the blow not have penetrating force, but the fighter shall knock himself off-balance when it hits. In kungfu turning on the heel of one leg usually creates a wind-up for the other leg with which to shoot into a lunge or a kick. These principles found there way into karate in the early years of its development.
  • I study Budokan and my 6th Dan instructor who is, I believe getting his 7th dan next year firmly supports what you say about pivoting on the ball of the foot -whether one is applying this principle to Karate, Iaido or Aikido the same principle applies. I do admit however, that I do find it harder to rotate on the ball of the foot rather than the heel, because the weight is pressing down on that point - rather like pressing your palms together and trying to turn them against the resulting friction! Also if the foot is sweaty or if one were fighting in the street, some shoes like trainers could also make this turn difficult. I have very sweaty feet, so I use talcum powder which helps a lot. Any helpful advice welcome.
  • After a lot of non sense coments, you cloud see this, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2bolh1yhaM Take a look. Oss
  • Sam
    Heel turn? Seriously? NEVER been taught that. My teacher learned Goju in Okinawa and spent over a decade there. You will be corrected immediately if you turn on the heel. I have friends that do Shorin ryu, Uechi ryu, and other branches of Goju ryu. All of their instructors were taught by Okinawans. You will not see a single one of them do a heel turn. Is this a Japanese alteration? Or an alteration made by service men coming back to the West? One has to wonder . . .
    • Alex
      No, it doesn't really exist. Maurino was taught the wrong thing and one day discovered this, assumed it was an universal problem sohe wrote about it. We can watch all the kata performed by all the masters from all styles for all different era, in slow-motion and you will find that nobody turns on their heels.
      • Dmitri
        Does not exist? Here you are Kanazawa performs Heian Shodan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6HrYbYTqQI Most of hist turns are no the heels. In fact, when I started my Karate, I began to read about it and one of the first things I read was that Shotokan does all the turning on the heels. That is not strictly enforced in our club, but people know about it. Some katas just cannot be done correctly without heel turns. If you check the Shotokan white book by Funakoshi (Karate-Do Kyohan, http://www.amazon.ca/Karate-Do-Kyohan-Master-Gichin-Funakoshi/dp/1568364822/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1455654572&sr=8-2&keywords=funakoshi+karate), all the katas come with step diagrams. So, to follow the diagrams you must use heel turns (at least most of the times).
  • Michael
    The 42 Secrets I Learned From The World’s Greatest Kata Coach Point 5 of this article seems to contradict the science! Sensei Inoue Yoshimi suggests using your heels. Turn on your heels. Step from your heels. i agree with Sensei Yoshimi, but perhaps its about context here - are you performing kata or freestyle/kumite?
  • Chronocidal
    I have studied multiple schools of Karate, and none of my instructors have ever said to turn on the heel, or put weight there. In fact, they have all explicitly taught not to do that! My first Shihan was trained by both Steve Arneil and Mas Oyama, and "turn on the ball of the foot" was how he was trained. I suspect the confusion comes from someone misinterpreting the use of the heel as an anchor/backstop for strength and stability - like stabilisers on a bike. The actual riding is done with the big wheels instead!
  • Anders Albrechtsen
    I agree with Sensei Djurdjevic. Turning on the ball or the heel depends on the direction and nature of the move. Sometimes it makes good sense to pivot on the heel. For instance the 180 degree turn in the beginning of Heian Shodan when you move your right leg and pivot on your left leg to deliver a right hand gedan barai to block an attack from behind. Here you take a full step back with your right leg while pivoting on your left leg. Pivoting on the left heel is more natural since you also shift your weight back to you your left leg when rotating and preparing for gedan barai. Pivoting on the ball of the left foot will more likely throw you off balance.
  • I enjoyed resistance training and have always been curious about the reasons behind being told to squat through my heels but when performing cleans and deadlifts try to incorporated the whole foot throughout the movement. Maybe this will help those looking for more information. http://deansomerset.com/squatting-through-the-heels-why-it-only-works-for-pirates/
  • Or Alus
    Hi Is there any scientific paper or research to base these arguments ? As a physicist I find some of the arguments problematic especially regarding stability. the example of skiing is bad since due to the slope the center of mass is above the toes rather than above the heel. Even though that the tzuki with the heel up might be stronger and faster there is lack of control and reversability (if one wants to change direction).
  • Randall
    Keeping the heel flat in basics is to teach you to engage the leg into your punch. It's biomechanical training not practical movement. When you fight your feet are simply in whatever position they need to be in to move and make distance but training basic movement of driving from the heel with your punches will have instilled in you the mechanic of driving the punch with your leg and engagement the posterior chain fully. If you are just doing reverse punch stationary in stance your feet are supposed to be fully planted anyway. There should be no rotation on the heel or ball of foot, front hip closes, back knee straightens and there is no change from the knees down ideally other than maybe a very slight forward sensation. When moving from back stance to front stance in basic movement say going from shuto to reverse punch, if you rotated on the ball of the foot the leg isn't engaged and the hip has a tendency to actually go back a bit instead of in. Here rotation of the heel forces the hip forward and into the punch. Stances are all different. Stepping forward shuto in back stance I rotate on the ball of my foot because it carries by body weight forward behind the technique more giving move power. On the other hand rotating on the heel going forward keeps you in a perfect straight line so it's a trade off. Side stance is gripped with the balls of the feet and toes. Front stance is gripped with the toes on the front foot and driving with the heel of the back foot. Heel or ball of the foot depends on what you are doing. Kihon is not kumite. Trying to use strict kihon in fighting is the real mistake here not ball of the foot or heel. Kihon is kihon and has a purpose in body development.
  • Hello Jesse Sensei! I'm sure that it would be interesting for you to get to know from the source of Shotokan (JKA) the reason we turn on our heels. There are many interesting reasons. I've been practiced for 32 years budo Karate from Japanese Senseis of Goju, Shito and Shotokan ryu (I'm a 3rd Dan on each style) and I don't think that any of them is wrong. Is all Karate but with their own ways to apply it. I invite you to go to our Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, train and ask our Senseis. Here's a part of an explanation by Naka Sensei. Oss! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR_fct7sAKk
  • Donovan
    Here's my two cents, whatever they're worth. So I will say that in many cases, using the ball of your foot to spring for power much like a boxer is very advantageous. There's a fundamental difference here though. My knowledge of karate is limited, but what I do know is that in many traditional martial arts you "sit" into your stance. This is how you root, and one way of linking the lower body and the upper body. This slightly alters the shape of your spine while lowering your center of gravity. If you are in an altered every day standing posture, your weight is more distributed to the balls of your feet which also gives the advantage of springing into your strike. This is used for many sports martial arts now adays. However traditionally, you most likely sat in your karate stance. Not just the horse stance, all of them, including the combat stance just like most other martial arts. Sitting like this changes the angling and the weight distribution. It's very difficult to maintain balance on the balls of your feet if you sit into your stance. Your heel becomes what drives into the ground, meaning pivoting and power would now be driven by the heel not the ball of the foot. They both have advantages and disadvantages. But neither is biomechanically wrong, unless you sat and used the balls of your feet, or stood and used your heels. You can't mix and match them, you have to pick what works best for your scenario. In general, at a distance being more springy is beneficial. Faster footwork, in and out tactics, but the problem is you're lighter in your feet making you easier to take down. That doesn't mean you're automatically easy to take down, simply more vulnerable to it. Where if you decide to stay in close, and attack the opponents balance while striking by constantly stealing their space, sitting is the better option, allowing force to flow through the heels. Many things we dismiss in traditional arts had a reason they were done. By looking more closely at what they were trying to accomplish with our knowledge now, we can make them more efficient and effective. It's a choice that has to be made dynamically depending on goal or the scenario in the moment. Do you need stability, or springiness. Neither is always right for every scenario, unless you force the opponent to play your chance, which is simply a sign of skill gap in most cases.
  • Alan
    The back of your foot is the worst place to turn. Even for sparring you want to plant at times but doing so uses the full foot. I argued with karate and kung fu instructors about this. You’re going to get bowled over. You limit the power you hit with because you draw from the ground, through toes to ankle and up the leg with hips as a transmission system, through the strong muscles of the trunk. Heel-hitting is arm hitting. The first thing a boxing coach says is, “Get on your toes. Get on the balls of your feet. Get off your — heels.” There are boxers who will see you are on your heels and time some hits to drop you. Look also at dance: Nobody pivots on their heel. Doing so wrenches the knee. It’s time to dispense with nonsense now that we have kinesiology and pads with sensors and knowledge of biomechanics at our disposal.
  • Dalton
    I definitely feel like the stranger in the room. I do not formally practice Karate, rather my formal education has been in gung-fu(particularly Taiji quan) but I love to see the principles and movements that exist within both systems. Within Taiji the legs tend to stay on the ground, planted where they can do best their job of supporting the body. When the feet are planted the style is quite applicable(if practiced in the correct way and tested against live resistance), however the few kicks that are implemented are simply not good kicks, I've brought it up to my instructor before and (with all due respect) he seems to me to be a bit blinded by faith in what he has learned and taught and so believes the kicks are better than they are. One of the most common of the kicks with Taiji is called "Turn and strike with heel" and as you could imagine, is a very awkward and lackluster movement.
  • Yusel
    I train Aikido and only very recently Goju Ryu, and in both cases I've been told not to use the heel for turning. It exerts a lot of pressure in the knee (specially if you're doing 180 degree Tenkan and the like.) Heck, I was in one exam where someone (a student testing for 6th Kyu) did a Tenkan full-speed on the heel. *pop!* That was his knee getting out of place. So yeah, I'm not doing heel-turning anytime soon, specially after that.
  • Félix Bargados
    El punto de pivote depende de varios factores estre los que cabe destacar: 1- la proyección del SEICHUSEN (eje central) sobre el pie cuando decidamos avanzar, retroceder o girar (unas veces estará más próximo a la puntera y otras lo estará más cerca del talón. Eso decidira de forma natural sobre que girar) 2- la voluntad de querer proyectar el DANTIEN hacia adelante o hacia atrás en los giros sobre "pivote doble" (si necesitamos retirar el dantien lo haremos sobre las punteras y si la maniobra requiere proyectarlo adelante, giraremos sobre el talon). Existen más contingencias que son decisivas para definir sobre que girar, pero estas son más dependientes de aplicaciones prácticas...
  • Marko
    Food for thought? I think the starting point is that we are standing static, relaxed and flat footed. Instead of the skiing analogy where your foot is tied up on a long elongated ski that prevents pivoting, lets think how you would accelerate with the ice skates? How do you start generating power, keep balance and stability with the skates on? Imagine how it would work with the skates on the ice. You are standing up in a 'Yoi' stance when someone wants to tackle you and you suddenly need to 'rocket' to the left with speed and power? You drop down, on a flat foot, dig the heel in, (or pivot then dig the heel in) and push? (Think this is how you'd change the direction or accelerate fast with the skiis as well). Ps. Best ways to learn how to balance? Hop on the ice without the skates? ?. Pps. Cheers. Love the conversation here.

Leave a comment