Skip to main content

Walk Like a Warrior by Mark Hatmaker

In reading contemporary historical accounts written by soldiers (cavalry and dragoon), settlers, scouts, pioneers, and other citizens of the American frontier 1680s-1880s, I find mention that Native Americans (“Indians” or “Savages” in the accounts) did not walk like “white men.”

Their gait, stride, and foot placement is described often in poetic terms as “light” or “light-footed,” “fleet”, “gliding”, and often times “springy” or “spring-like.” These terms while descriptive of the effect do little to tell us the how or why of the gait.

We can find clues in accounts given by trackers in any of the myriad “Indian Wars” or skirmishes that riddled the continent in the first few centuries of the settling of the nation. The obvious telltale barefoot or soft impression of a moccasin is often a giveaway that you have a Native American track but this is less so in the moccasined foot as more and more Anglo backwoodsmen adopted this footwear.

But there are a few accounts that mention how you can distinguish a Native American warrior’s imprint from an Anglo track (incidentally-the strides discussed were not used only by the warrior caste, but by all peoples of a given tribe, but as we shall see it might be of particular value to a warrior.)

The key it seems is in the direction of the stride.

Self-Experiment Time: Stand up, right now, wherever you are and go for a brief walk. A mere 10-12 steps will do it. While walking, look at your feet.

If you are like the vast majority of human beings you walk with the toes pointed slightly out to the side

Now stand-stock still. Look down at your feet. Chances are you stand with your feet in this same “toes out” orientation.

According to our trackers the Native warriors imprint has zero toe-out orientation. In fact, the toes point in the direction of the walk.

Is this “following the toe” orientation a genetic quirk of Native American skeletal structure? An artifact of primarily living barefoot or moccasined? Or a cognitive stride choice?

We’ll come back to that question.

Another difference noted by our trackers: Weight-distribution.

When Anglos take a step the heel lands first, followed by a rocking forward to the inside ball of the foot to a push off for the next step.

The Native warrior track sees little heel imprint at all. Instead their imprint favors the balls of the feet and/or the whole sole of the foot landing in one concerted unit as though one were treating the foot as a natural snowshoe.

In the Native American tracks, the ball of the foot imprints then become deeper, for rather than rocking to the next step the calves are actively engaged to push to the next step.

In essence, the balls of the feet are the 1st to make contact and the last to leave the earth with each step as you “follow the toe” with each stride forward.

If you experiment with this stride you will find that it does lend itself to such descriptors as light, gliding, and springy.

One can easily imagine such a stride being of use in stalking but it seems this stride was a given. Yes, used in stalking, skulking (war scenarios), but also in everyday life by young and old, men and women, and children alike.

Again: Skeletal quirk? Artifact of not using hard-soled footwear over the lifespan? Or design?

Again, we’ll come back to that.

The contemporary accounts I mentioned, whether they be of the tribes of the Eastern woodlands, the Plains Indians, or the bands of the Southwest often discuss incidents of remarkable endurance demonstrated by Native Americans on the move. There are many, many stories of seemingly tireless stamina related both admiringly and sometimes begrudgingly in military accounts from soldiers forced to face them in war.

We’ll discuss the interesting running “training” tactics used by various tribes another day, today we’ll keep it slow, we’ll stay with the walk. And here I will paraphrase two accounts to demonstrate that the aforementioned stride is one of conscious choice.

General Ulysses S. Grant had under his command a Seneca Indian, Ely S. Parker. A remarkable man who despite unforgivable intolerance from many served the United States with honor, represented Native Americans with aplomb, and earned the respect of General Grant.

Mr. Parker’s life deserves many words, but let’s allow one anecdote to suffice as it pertains to our topic at hand.

Mr. Parker served as an engineer under Grant during the Civil War and often there was occasion in which there were long marches through the “Wilderness.” After many days and many miles of this slogging trek the Anglo soldiers were, rightfully, fatigued. Mr. Parker went to Grant and asked if he might make a suggestion to which General Grant replied “Take command.”

Parker instructed the soldiers to alter their stride from toes-out to following the toe. He offered a few words on placement but the main crux he related was that to follow the toes engaged more muscles of the foot and more equally distributed the workload.

Mighty interesting. Here we have a Native American warrior who also happens to be an engineer able to articulate exactly how and why such an alteration in stride might be of value.

The moral of this particular anecdote according to the accounts that mention it, is that the trek through the “Wilderness” was recommenced and the soldiers related that they were far more refreshed and better able to bear the workload with this method of locomotion.

So far it seems there is more than enough evidence to at least experiment with this stride, but let’s add one more piece to the “conscious choice” evidence column.

Walking Uphill

When moving uphill Anglo tracks do not alter the toe-out orientation, whereas the Native American tracks abandon their “follow the toe” stride.

What we find instead is a “toes-in” stride.

When walking, hiking, loping up hill, Native warriors (and tribe members in general) adopt a slight pigeon-toed gait. I find this mentioned in many accounts with seldom a mention as to why…

But, then in an obscure passage we find a nameless warrior instructing an Anglo (who has adopted moccasins) to toe-in while following him up a slope.

“Why?” our Anglo asks.

“So that you don’t slip, you can grip with the feet.”

In barefoot self-experiment I find that there does indeed seem to be better traction with the toes-in method when scrambling uphill.

Over the course of a few months of consciously working these techniques I stand convinced that the “follow the toes” on flat ground and “toes-in” when going uphill are mighty useful adaptations. Initially they call for more work from the calves that have been used to a lifetime of heel-landing and rocking to the toes. Following the toes has let me know how long my calves have actually been dormant.

Now, whether you try the self-experiments or not is up to you, but I think we must all acknowledge that the conscious effort to make everything more efficient including our mere walking strides is a mighty thought-provoking exercise in ingenuity.


  1. Mark you just described my childhood. When we hunted we tracked. We only killed what we would eat. I learned to field dress a deer at the age of 12. We learned to shoot. First how to clean every rifle my father and uncle owned. To always make sure there wasn't a round left in the chamber. The gun was a tool, no different than the Bowie knives my cousin and I field dressed a deer if we got one. As a native American well 70% and a warrior I would say to the readers, your greatest enemy isn't fear,. It's hesitation. While someone is considering the consequences,. Breathing deeply to gan courage or pausing for whatever reason, I won't. You must act. Be first and be as forceful as needed. But don't pause. Because while you're thinking about who will bail you out of jail if your wife can't get a babysitter, Someone like me will be blowing out your eyeballs,. Literally with a JKD finger jab, then kicking your testicles through the top of your head and maybe for good measure after I nuder you and turn your eyeballs to mush, I may smash your knee before I make my exit. Hesitation is your worst enemy. Worry about it all now. Until you no longer worry. No Hesitation.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Warrior Awareness Drills by Mark Hatmaker

THE Primary Factor in self-protection/self-defense is situational awareness. Keeping in mind that crime is, more often than not, a product of opportunity, if we take steps to reduce opportunity to as close to nil as we can manage we have gone a long way to rendering our physical tactical training needless [that’s a good thing.]
Yes, having defensive tactical skills in the back-pocket is a great ace to carry day-to-day but all the more useful to saving your life or the lives of loved ones is a honed awareness, a ready alertness to what is occurring around you every single day.
Here’s the problem, maintaining such awareness is a Tough job with a capital T as most of our daily lives are safe and mundane [also a good thing] and this very safety allows us to backslide in good awareness practices. Without daily danger-stressors we easily fall into default comfort mode.
A useful practice to return awareness/alertness to the fore is to gamify your awareness, that is, to use a series of specific…

Apache Running by Mark Hatmaker

Of the many Native American tribes of the southwest United States and Mexico the various bands of Apache carry a reputation for fierceness, resourcefulness, and an almost superhuman stamina. The name “Apache” is perhaps a misnomer as it refers to several different tribes that are loosely and collectively referred to as Apache, which is actually a variant of a Zuni word Apachu that this pueblo tribe applied to the collective bands. Apachu in Zuni translates roughly to “enemy” which is a telling detail that shines a light on the warrior nature of these collective tribes.
Among the various Apache tribes you will find the Kiowa, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Chiricahua (or “Cherry-Cows” as early Texas settlers called them), and the Lipan. These bands sustained themselves by conducting raids on the various settled pueblo tribes, Mexican villages, and the encroaching American settlers. These American settlers were often immigrants of all nationalities with a strong contingent of German, Polish, and …

Awareness Drill: The Top-Down Scan by Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead-the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar—these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.
It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. [I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.]
For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment [or familiar ones for that matter] scan from the top down.
I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset. For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart [or an unfamiliar box store while travelling] starting at the top, t…