Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Thoracic mobility is a big subject in the health and fitness world at the moment, mainly due to the modern problem of back problems linked to working at desks or in set positions throughout the day. However, back health and mobility was well and truly on the radar of the old Internal Arts Masters. Although at the time of their creation this modern phenomena may not have been present, the Internal arts and practices also placed great importance on mobility of the spine.
In arts like the old styles of Xin Yi we find that spine mobility is one of the primary components for their particular flavor of Fa jing (explosive release). They will work on flexion and extension in their fundamental practices, freeing up and conditioning the tissues associated with the back to create a high level of mobility and strength like that of a strong, well made Long bow. In other styles like Ba Gua the ability to undulate the spine is fundamental to the evasive movement skill the style is famous for. Further, in some of the Xing Yi systems the ability to produce a 'spine wave' for methods like Pi Quan is fundamental. So it can be said that the mobility of the spine is of great important in internal training.
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.
In the martial arts there are a wide variety of ways in which we can use the upper back. Some styles like to round it, some like to keep it flat with the shoulders back, some do not have any consideration of this area. But when we talk of connection and the development of internal power there are some important considerations, not least the position of the Scapula.
The Scapula are two wide flat bones that provide attachment for 3 different muscle groups.
The first which includes the Teres Minor, infraspinatus etc attaches to the Surface of the Scapula and are responsible for internal and external rotation of the Shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint). The second which includes the muscles of the arms like bicep and tricep is also responsible for action in the Glenohumeral joint. The final group is perhaps the most important to us is the group that is responsible for stabilization and rotation of the Scapular, which includes the main muscles of the upper back like the Trapezius, Levator Scapulae and Rhomboids.
Switching gears from the recent posts on mind training and associations, lets move back into the subject of tissue development and connection, specifically relating to the back both in terms of health and development for IP.
Utilization of the back and how we can use the connections in the back to transfer force or load between the two sides of the body is a subject seen in a range of Chinese martial arts, in fact there is an art that primarily focuses on this connection, TongbeiQuan. But far from being a strictly Chinese concept we also see the idea in some of the Japanese arts where the Hitoemi or the ‘one line’ concept utilizes this connection.
As described previously the out breath can have a direct impact on the state of relaxation in the body. The pressure changes that occur during breath release helps to lead tissue relaxation over time.
But there is also another useful part of the breath cycle we can utilize. This is the Inhalation phase.
We can actually use the 'in' breath and resultant increase in body pressure to 'pull' on stretched tissues to increase the potential conditioning and activation.
This idea is something often neglected in favor of out breath relaxation. Usually because, for this area of training to work correctly, the body needs to be very open and relaxed. But if performed correctly this method can be very powerful and deepen practices such as pulling silk.
Proprioception is the ability to sense position, motion, and equilibrium. It is how, if blindfolded, we are still able to touch our finger to our nose and know where our limbs are in relation to our body.
The better our proprioception, the more accurate, responsive and fluid we will be when undertaking complex movement patterns.
Patterns like Chen Tai Chi's Silk Reeling, Yang Cloud hands or Ba Gua's Dragon serve teacups are demanding movements and our ability to perform them can rest on our Kinesthetic and proprioceptive capacity.
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.
Low energy levels is a common issue we see in individuals inquiring into internal training. People may be systemically tired or feeling weak regardless of apparent physical exertion. Perhaps the most common (but least recognized in the individual) impact on a persons energy level can be tensions and misalignment causing inefficient body usage and excessive physical expenditure.
If we examine the actual load forces and mechanical effort that a given action takes for a relaxed and aligned person vs a tense and misaligned person we may see a multiple time increase in the forces required for the given action. This shouldn’t be too surprising to any mechanical engineers out there considering the ‘lever’ natural of many of our articulations.
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