Understanding the natural walk is a good place to start before we begin to break the rules.
Economical & Efficient Movement
More importantly than anything, the natural or neutral walk should be effortless. Any extraneous movements (especially that of swagger) is to be avoided. Like alignment, which the neutral walk is to travel with, it is a starting place from which to discover and/or engage other movement. Bari Rolfe says of Jacques Lecoq’s use of neutrality, “The two words, ‘appropriate’ and ‘economical’ together almost add up to the term ‘neutral.’ the student executes any action, like walking, with only the expenditure of energy and rhythm, in space and in time, that the action requires.”¹
This walk is also good to use as a transitioning movement between exercises in order to keep the energy flowing.
Natural walking generally uses two different forms of counterbalance. The first is only the upper extremities or only the lower extremities. Above the transverse plane, the isolated upper extremities counterbalance like pulling a bow and arrow. The same happens below the transverse plane with the lower extremities. A limited walk like ash walk generally uses only the isolated lower extremity counterbalance.
The second form of counterbalance is the whole body counterbalance, forming an X connection with the extremities (for instance, the right upper extremity is connected to the left lower extremity and vise versa). With a natural walk, the engagement begins at the lower Dan tien (core area), sending instruction to the proximal (hip) end of the lower extremities that ripple up the body immediately affecting the upper extremities in natural counterbalance. Without a keen eye to timing, one might believe the counterbalance begins at the same time. In fact, there is a ripple effect.
If you can imagine that the lower extremity is suddenly the upper extremity, then the point of engagement may change (the Dan tien). Naturally, when people begin to practice quadrupedal movement, their point of engagement generally appears at the middle Dan Tien, hence the upper or front extremities begin and provoke the lower or hind extremities. The walking handstand will also use this modified form of counterbalance.
If both of these areas of initiation (middle and lower Dan tien) engage simultaneously, we may notice a forced X counterbalance between the upper and lower extremities. There will be no ripple effect, but a mirroring effect between the upper and lower half of the transverse plane much like with a head-tail curve. This form of walk will appear artificial.
Exercise 1: X Half Alternation
This exercise mixes both the X counterbalance with the unnatural body half walk (same arm, same leg). Begin with one counterbalance X natural step then hold your arm in place, so that you step into body half, then step yet again to return to the counterbalance X.
Exercise 2: Walk, Jog, Run Critical Thresholds
In this exercise, we are interested in the line that divides walking from jogging or jogging from running. We want to resonate with staying in the critical threshold, the moment of transition from one part of the locomotion to the other. Perhaps we can even call them jwalging and jruning. Especially notice the different muscle groups.
Ash Walk (Hokotai)
Walk as if you were a pillar of ash. Any sudden movement, and you will dissipate. Be very gentle with your feet. Kayo Mikami regarding the ash walk states that “the ‘ash column’ is ‘standing’, being ‘suspended’ and ready to ‘collapse’ at any moment. The ‘way of standing’ like this should be ‘standing’ in Butoh or the ‘appearance of inevitability'”.² Regarding the walk, Sondra Fraleigh states, “Because of its smooth continuity and floating lightness, hokotai [the basic Butoh walk] creates a sense of timelessness: ‘How can you find eternity in the present,’ this walk seems to ask?”³
Walk as if you were completely stone. Your entire body is rock hard as if with rigor mortis. Unless you are as a stone on a slippery surface, your feet are hard to the ground and it is difficult to go forward. Another force may move you forward in the effect that your feet might move only in sudden spurts.
Exercise: Pebbles in Crevices
Stone Walk while holding pebbles between various body parts, e.g. thighs, armpits, between fingers, between neck and chin.
Begin by standing very, very still. Notice that with even the best efforts, the body still moves in order to accommodate for balance. Balance exists because of gravity. Imagine there is a pen at the top of the head. What is the pen drawing? The pen is drawing scribbles. These are not only seemingly random scribbles, but scribbles that utilize butoh time like that of a butterfly. Resonate with these scribbles.
This walk has a subtle floating quality to it. You may even smoothly lift up from the balls of the feet to give a floating illusion. Entire body is relaxed or lifeless, but flowing. Hijikata said of the ghost walk:
Why do ghosts have no legs? Nevertheless they are standing upright. What is it that holds them upright like that?[…] It is air that supports ghosts. Dandelions are not supported by legs. They are supported by countless number of death. […] There’s neither directions, nor top or bottom, nor right or left. The human body will float up and start drifting.4
You walk as if there were only the tiniest string of life left. You somehow manage to walk but are in a perpetual state of collapse. Your body may even take on a stumbling quality. A trauma may have suddenly happened to you and you have only seconds left to live. You may even have feelings such as: not me, not today, how could this happen? This is essentially like Hijikata’s Walking of a Condemned Criminal. Hijikata says of the convict:
A convict who is forced to walk toward the scaffold is one who is already
dead while he is trying to continue to live. Within him we can see a fierce
battle between death and life. He is compelled to fall into an unjust
situation under the law. The antagonism is extremely condensed and
expressed in this miserable man. He is not walking. He is forced to walk
against his will. He is not living but forced to continue to live. He is not
dead but forced to die. He is in the state of a perfect passiveness.
Paradoxically, however, we can see in him the fundamental vitality of a
human being as endowed by nature.5
This is a human walk but slow.
Exercise 1: Left/Right Deviation
Slow Walk with closed eyes in what we feel to be straight. Usually, by the time we reach the end of the space, we will see a curve to either the left or right or both. Depending on where the curve is, we may be able to know where to place more awareness in the opposite direction in life in order to compensate.
Exercise 2: Blindfold
Perform a slow walk while blindfolded. Make sure to increase the difficulty of the walking space, granted with safety. Using anything that also tests your balance is recommended such as the perimeter of a hot tub.
Walk as if there were little gravity. Like the ghost walk, you have a floating sensation, but can take it even further with Space Walk.
Feel your large body and a torso with four limbs. Torso will have a tendency to move forward while the rest of the body struggles to catch up. You move as if you just have awareness of the four limbs and they are not at all yet differentiated into the ankle and specific surfaces of the sole of the feet. Feel eventually that your entire arms are being used for balance and your legs have a multidirectional form of getting from one place to the next.
With closed eyes, you walk but the rest of your body is sleeping. Your head is either already bent forward or to the side or you catch yourself dozing off.
Slow walk with the embodied feeling of your feet below hell and head above heaven. Feel power and lightning.
Any number of human walks or swagger that accentuate self-importance. Take into complete exaggeration.
Drawing upon your own history, exploit or exaggerate your own past walking tendencies that have not necessarily been viewed as average or correct. See section clown for further inspiration.
Go into your personal embodiment of that which is a zombie. Increase your personalization of this form.
Slow walk as you control the head string of a miniature version of yourself who is also slow walking. A larger version of yourself who is also slow walking controls you by the head string. Hence, there are three difference sizes of you walking, one in the 3d world and two in the multi-dimensional vaporized world.
This is the walk of a cyborg. Play with robotic, repetitive movements and system failures of particular parts.
Warp your body that resonates with you, and this will be the position for the walk. Resonate with the shape of the deformed, stuck in one position.