The term “rooting” is often used from a Chinese martial arts perspective. It refers to the instance when the human body, through the leg and heel, is connected so strongly to the ground that opponents attempting to move that body needs to use as much strength as it would take to shift the ground underneath. This has resulted in various portrays of an almost magical paradigm in China, similar to the portrayal of guns in Western culture: so powerful you don’t need skill or intent to use it, it just happens.
While the power is almost as great as it is portrayed in popular fiction, it requires skill to be used, there is no getting around that aspect. No more than a child can fly using nothing but will power magic without learning how to walk, run, or swim to the airport.
As mentioned before, usable power in martial arts can be divided into internal and external sources. The internal will run forever so long as the engine and fuel remains. The external source will run until it exhausts itself. In this fashion, a baseball will maintain momentum up until its inertial is exhausted by hitting something or by the friction through air. A jet, however, can maintain momentum so long as its engine and fuel supply exists.
Rooting is a convenient concept, but also difficult to ponder. It is convenient since it allows the human mind to easily grasp how to draw power from a source, but it is hard because these powers are not normally something humans can imagine themselves using. While it is possible to reconstruct or construct martial techniques based upon original compositions of power, shapes, and applications, it is much faster to use pre-existing concepts and applications that have been tested. It’s the difference between engineers utilizing the laws of physics to construct the strongest bridge through trial and error alone, or utilizing an existing bridge design that has been tested against cross winds and resonance vibrations.
The key power source in rooting is gravity. What allows it to be used by humans is a hybrid construction of both internal and external power sources. Mastery of gravity is done through indirect means that utilize mastery of one’s own body movements and balance. To put it another way, destructive force can be generated merely by climbing up a skyscraper, dropping a big rock, and watching it smash whatever it hits below you. You did not technically “generate” that power, nor was it an internal origin source from the rock itself. Gravity did most of the work, but you were the one that supplied external power to the rock to move it to the right height, and that power came from your internal engine and fuel source (muscles, blood, sugar, carbohydrates, nerves, etc).
Rooting is as simple a thing as understanding how to combine internal and external power sources under your own control. Gravity will not run out of power any time soon. Yet you cannot control it directly. You can control your body directly through neural commands. Thus a martial artist can integrate as their own internal power, the power of the Earth’s gravity well itself. So long as your body and mind lasts, at least.
What makes internal martial arts seem like magic without effort is merely that most of their efforts are kept to a minimum, in order to control and not obstruct the power that they are getting from elsewhere. External martial arts rely predominantly on mastery of the body in order to develop and utilize the body’s own internal power supply for attack and defense. This will last right up until you get wounded, get old, or get tired (run out of fuel). External thus means to focus on generating power, speed, and stamina to affect the outside world. Internal martial arts are focused more on what’s going on inside the body, as erasing blockages in power allows for the greatest increase in strength. This may seem like a minor detail that will get people to the same place either way they go, but it’s a rather fundamental difference. Not only in the starting point, but in the ending point (the meaning of the journey itself).
To put it in modern world technological terms, pure external strength is like a NASA shuttle packed with all kinds of liquid fuel and sent to burn into orbit using the force of the acceleration generated to overcome the earth’s gravity well. Internal mastery would be more akin to those people in squirrel suits, the size of a normal human body, jumping off cliffs and allowing the wind currents and the gravity well itself, to supply the impulse for them to maintain height and speed. They don’t have an engine on their glider. They carry no fuel. Yet they control where they move, within the context of their metaphysical world.
Using such convenient concepts as “rooting”, humans can construct and deconstruct martial techniques at an ever increasing speed and efficiency. For example, it is easy to conclude that a technique that often has both feet off the ground, such as a jumping spin kick, utilizes rooting not at all. One cannot have a root while unconnected to the ground or anything else for that matter. Why that is good or bad comes in a later section: tactics and strategy.