Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
An initial point of research for the Internal Arts coach is the relationship between the various muscles of the center and how they relate and influence structural alignment.
Before any of the strength development can occur (pulling silk - winding etc), we need to address these imbalances or misalignment. If they are are not addressed early then the body will build strength over misalignment and compound any per-existing issues.
The lower crossed syndrome is something that we see to a lesser or greater degree in new students. The lower cross is a term used to describe a specific pattern of muscular imbalance in the lower body which results in pelvic tilting and curvature of the lower back. If left unchecked, internal strength training where we are specifically working on the connective tissues and muscles in this area can actually compound postural problems, as well as increase the likelihood of injury under load.
The lower Cross is characterized by a combination of both weakness and tightness in the lower torso. Specifically, tightness in the Thoraco lumbar extensors which is reflected in the hip flexors and weakness in the abdominals reflected in the Gluteals. This specific pattern of imbalance creates joint dysfunction at specific points along the lower spine and will cause the pelvis to tilt forward.
Internal arts have specific training methodologies to address this issue. The corrections are achieved through 'releasing' the tightness in the thoracolumbar and hip flexors. We are aiming to bring the lower cross into a relaxed and balanced state to create stability from softness, rather than adding 'pressure' into the system by focusing on strengthening the Glutes and Abs as some interventions advocate.
Much of the early static standing training, which focuses on suspending from the head and pointing the Coxyx at the earth, is focused on this release of these tensions. We see that the conditions created when standing for a prescribed lengths of time will elicit the release we are looking for.
However, there are also several focused walking methods and movement practices where the focus is on releasing or relaxing the tensions of the lower back and hip flexors. These work just as well when the correct level of attention is used.
"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.
In the internal arts we often use the term ‘Bridging’ in relation to contacting with the partners arms. But there is another use for this term that relates to the connection of the arms to the torso and it is that connection that we will explore in this post.
The Arm or upper body bridges are the front and back connections of the arms into the torso and are one of the major development focuses for the Internal Martial Artists. They are perhaps one of the most important areas of focus for practitioners due to the common misalignment and systemic tensions from poor posture or lifestyle that can manifest in them.
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.
All the Principles of Heaven and Earth are living inside you"
Ueshiba Morihei - Founder of Aikido.
‘Heaven, Earth, Man’ is a concept we find in many of the internal arts. Although the model can relate to many things, from Taoist mystical concepts to the nature of our place in reality.
I like to use the model to describe a practical part of internal power training and movement. The training of the balance of opposites within the body and how letting one win over the other can create movement or action.
The internal arts and methods are perhaps best defined by the way in which they utilize the body to create, receive and transform forces. There are many different ways in which the body is used in this regard from rotating and rolling the Center, to tensioning the connective tissue web, to co-ordinating the limb and body into a unified action. But in this post we will be looking at one of these interesting methods that utilizes the Axis of the body in a ‘wave’. This is often referred to as the ‘spine wave’.
The spine wave is created by the action of the Lumbar Spine, the thoracic spine and associated tissues working sequentially but in harmony with one another. It is often seen in the crashing forward direction of Xing Yi Quan’s Pi or ‘splitting’ method or in TaiJi Quan’s An or ‘push downwards’ method.
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