Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Grab hold of any high-level Judo-Ka and try to drag them around the mat and you notice one clear attribute, stability. In the grappling arts especially, the skill of stability is a core component of the training methods and one of the main attributes that is built.
Stability can be thought of as our ability to maintain control of our posture, position, motion, and mass, either when we move ourselves or when we move in association with a partner or opponent.
In this article, I will explore a few concepts that combine to create stability in the individual, concepts that often arise naturally out of good training, and that we focus on in the StableBody section of the system.
Maintaining trained alignments
Improper alignment, more commonly called poor posture, is perhaps the most common way in which stability is lost in most people. Our days spent behind desks or staring at our phones cause our posture to slump or slouch, our shoulder position to deform and our spine to round. When we apply this postural bias to the Martial Setting, and the external forces acting upon us, these problems are easily taken advantage of by the trained opponent. The typical ‘text neck’ posture, for instance, will hang the weight of your head out in front of your body, and any good Grappler would be able to use this to their advantage.
So, for us to become more stable we must address problems in our structure, like this forward bias, through training the body so that it intimately knows when such imbalances are present and naturally addresses them. The ‘trained’ alignments of the body are self-correcting and self-resetting so that the practitioner, after some period of training doesn’t have to think about maintaining good position, it simply occurs.
The primary marker for the general alignment of the body is the spine. The spine and the associated muscle groups are perhaps the most susceptible to misalignment of all the parts of the body. The back and torso is supposed to be supple, mobile and articulate but often it becomes fixed or set in position. Once the spine develops more fluidity and a return to mobility is achieved it requires much less effort for it to remain aligned optimally and the for the posture to be corrected.
Secondly, we can associate and align the Shoulders to the hips. The role of these joints is similar in our body however the alignment of them and the ‘body box’ that they create is a very useful tool in the maintenance of stability, especially in motion. As we move around, we can put our attention into how our shoulders are associating with our hips and note any misalignments or sub optimal motions that occur. Normally this will be presented as excessive effort or muscular activation, especially when interacting with a partner. Once we have the body box, we can then also associate the elbows to the knees and the wrists to the ankles, but these associations are often not necessarily alignments but expressions of motion and association.
It is important for us to realise that trained alignment is not a static thing. We are not talking about making the body behave like a statue! The trained alignment is a state in which the adept will be optimally positioned for support, efficiency, effort and power during any movement or any-body position. Trained alignment is, in fact a key to dynamic movement in that it adapts to the requirements present in the moment and is not confined to a particular ‘stance’ or body posture.
The Stable Centre.
Common to many martial arts is the concept of the ‘centre’. Called by many names, the ‘Dan Tien’, The ‘Tanden’, The ‘Hara’, This area of the body is normally located in the lower abdomen. It can be thought of in many ways, and can represent many different ideas to many different traditions, however, when we talk about Stability we can use this area as the defined ‘centre of mass’ and as the juncture for the various lines of tissue that hold the body position in alignment. It is from this combination of alignment and connection to the centre that we can create stability to our motion.
The stable centre is extremely useful because it provides us with a location to turn around, to lead from and to balance opposite directions through. The centre is a ‘ball’ of connection and has all 6 major directions inherently present. This centre is dynamic and involved in every motion we undertake, from agile leaping to solidity of root. The well-trained centre is the point around which the body can rotate and turn, it is the point from which the body will align its joints and limbs, and the point from which the web of tissue will stretch and coil.
Making this Central point stable is not simply to make it static however, indeed, that is not the goal. The static adept is the adept getting punched in the face! The stable centre is in fact the centre that can move, both through the planes of motion as well as in accordance with the balance of opposite forces. The truly stable centre is the dynamic one.
However, it is common for us to see demonstrations of stability in static context, The Tai Chi master rooting against pushes is a classic example, but how often does this skill feature on the roadmap of combative exchange? Rarely. So, although a good marker for our ability to remain stable, it is dynamic stability that is the attribute that we are interested in.
Stability through the balance of opposites.
The balance of opposites is the method that we use at the more advanced levels of practice to deal with force such that it is cancelled out or remains in equilibrium.
An easy way to describe this balance is with the visual of a wheel in front of you, note as the front of the wheel rolls up and away from you, the other side is simultaneously coming up from underneath. Were you to touch the falling side you would fall, but on the same wheel, were you to touch the rising side you would raise up. It is the same rotation, but dependant on the position of your interaction you will experience 2 very different effects.
There is a lot to be said about this concept, that I call pairing, and that is for another time, but the most basic idea highlights an interesting point. The action of opposites can maintain a type of balance in a system. The wheel, because of its turning when forces are applied and the presence of a central point of rotation maintains stability. This addressing of force, so as to return to a neutral point, enables practitioners to appear extremely stable, because as the force enters it is immediately balanced by its opposite and equalised.
In upcoming articles we will explore some of these concepts in more detail.
In some traditions there is a model used for ground contact sensitivity call the 9 points of the feet. This model is very useful for grounding or root training and forms part of the method to increase our Stability. Stability is a fundamental quality for the internal artists, even when stepping and moving very quickly. This is a model we find in systems where students may be required to perform static single leg standing postures or where rooting is a large factor in the styles outlook.
In it we identify the 9 major contact points of the foot and bring our awareness into these areas so as to acutely recognise weight distribution.
We can’t really look at movement skills without talking about how movement complexity and capacity is handled by the brain and nervous system. It is our brains that give rise to our ability to move in complex ways and also our brains that allow us to retain good movement habits once they are learned.
Indeed, some people theorize that movement diversity is the reason for humans developing such large and complex brains.
Methods which utilize extension permeate the internal arts. The idea of extension is different to idea of ‘stretching’ however the two are often confused. When extension is used we actually lead entire chains of tissue out from the body in order to create an elastic like tautness, in stretching we are more focused on elongating a specific muscle or limited muscle group.
Extension plays several roles in internal work. Firstly it is a great way to identify what are often called, blockages or bindings in the body. We may extend our arms out to the side and notice an ache in the elbow or the upper back and this is indicative of the tissue in these areas 'resisting' the extension.
"rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
manifested through the fingers."
Tai Chi Classics.
This famous verse from the Tai Chi Classics identifies how the various parts of the body act in unison with each other to produce whole body connected power. One of the really interesting and often misinterpreted areas of the body for study is the waist. Some people consider this the pelvis, some the ‘hips’, some the area between the lower ribs and the iliac crests, but we can actually look at the muscle groups associated with ‘control’ to better understand why it is so important to the internal artists.
Opening and closing the body in harmony is one of the key methods of many internal arts, indeed it stands as fundamental to some of the Chinese Systems. I call it 'pairing' as this open and close happens simultaneously as a pair of opposite directions within a single action. This simultaneous harmony of opposite action is well described by the Taiji symbol (often called the Yin/yang).
One of the methods I use to help people visualize this process within the torso is to think of two cogs, one located in the lower abdomen (lower dantien) and one in the solar plexus area along the Sagital Plane.
These cogs are meshed so that action in the lower cog results in action in the upper cog. The lower cog is always the driver while the upper cog simply reacts to its action.
In general, to allow correct use of the shoulder and maintain 6 direction stability in Internal Training, we aim for the shoulders to be sat naturally at the sides with the scapular sunk in and down towards the spine as discussed in the previous post.
However some systems have a specialization that trains a totally different mechanic in the back. This is the idea of the ‘turtle back’ or the rounded back where the shoulders are slung slightly forward, the scapula remain flat to the back but pull away from the spine with the thoracic region is slightly curved.
This posture actually creates an ‘arch’ between the hands which a very powerful and strong upper body structure in the forward direction. We see the prevalence of this posture in some of the Crane Martial Arts where upper body connection is of primary importance. Just like the arch of a bridge, the rounding of the back creates an inherently strong structure.
But there are also some problems and pitfalls with this posture if it is performed incorrectly.
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