Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
One of the initial focuses of Internal Arts training is to create a body that is connected and structured with healthy tissue. If you look at virtually any physical training methodology you will see the initial sections of their training devoted to alignment, strength, endurance and connection. Internal Power Training is no different, but the strength and endurance we are looking to build has a alternative quality.
Major body lines and the planes of motion have been identified for centuries through various terms and phrases, but the easiest way to witness them is look at how the human body moves in its actions during normal demands.
Thomas Myers book ‘Anatomy Trains’ is a seminal work on these lines of tissue. In it, he outlines what they lines are, what muscle groups are involved and how they are used. I would recommend this excellent work to anyone truly interested in a deep exploration of the anatomy of these lines. Here my aim is simply to bring these major lines to your attention in order to help re-enforce and quantify some of the movement and developmental methods in Internal Power Training.
But first, I would just like to briefly discuss separation as it relates to body methods. It is easy for us to break methods like these down into its component parts in order to examine them in more detail. Indeed, this site is most probably focused towards that specific point. But it is extremely important that we remember that these individual concepts are never, at any stage separated from the whole. The body, mind, breath and the various chains of tissue are all ‘one thing’ and will always be one thing, so we should practice with the understanding that ‘one thing’ is the ultimate goal. Here is where the good coach or teacher becomes invaluable. Their expertise and understanding will allow you to develop competency in one aspect of IP while the others are improved too.
I mention this in this post and over the coming posts, because we are about to ‘slice up’ the body into a number of specific muscle groups and lines and it would be easy for the reader to think that these are all that matter. However they are part of an all encompassing network of connections permeating the body. Much like a football, made of numerous bits of leather, but none are independent or separate from the other when the ball is used. The gaps between these lines are a wide ranging network of minor body lines, webs and networks that are just as vital to the healthy human as the major ones described here.
The Axis is often thought to be the ‘centre line’ of the human body, and although his concept is useful for some training methods, the Axis is better described as the deep front line, superficial front line and the back lines of the body. These chains of tissue in the body are made up of muscles and fascia that link the top and base of the head to the lower torso and pelvis. The axis is often mistakenly thought to be the spine but this doesn't take into consideration the tissues concerned, although it is of course relevant. The axis tissue is responsible for causing bowing in the sagittal and coronal planes, as well as creating waves and spirals. It is one of the first lines to work with in order to correctly align the torso for further postural development and to develop the springy body like that of the Internal Arts Expert.
(Dang Jin) - The bodies inner support structure
The laying down of thicker and stronger tissue on the inside of the legs is a core component of internal power training. The postures that develop these tissues are often called the ‘horse’ or ‘horse riding’ stances. When done a certain way the practitioner will effectively ‘sit’ on the inside lines of the legs like the arch of a bridge and develop the ‘rooting’ capabilities so famous in these systems. This is the ‘crotch arch’ and is normally the second line of focus in training.
The pillars of the body.
Almost all Chinese internal arts forms start in a similar manner; the arms start by the practitioner’s sides, the posture is neutral, then the arms are raised. As the arms rise the side lines are revealed and engaged and the support pillars of the body are utilized like a suspension bridge. We can think of them as bands of tissue located from the arm pit to the outer ridge of the foot. They are extremely important in their role for overall body stability, alignment and the control of the pelvic movement out to the sides. These lines also help to fuel twisting and rebound forces.
UPPER BODY BRIDGES
The arm bridges are the links between the hands through to the back and front of the body that control how we move the arms in relation to the body position. Obviously our arms are physically connected to our body, but here we are talking about the chains of tissue leading from inside the torso all the way to the hands and ultimately to the finger tips. Through targeted training we can increase this connection resulting in unified motion to and from the centre.
SPIRAL OR CROSS BODY LINES
Like our DNA forming a spiralling helix, one of the major body lines used in internal training is also a spiral. We can think of this line as a strap that runs around the body both keeping it stable and also connecting both halves, much like a corset. This is perhaps the strongest link through the body as it feeds directly though the tissue nexus of the Lower dan tien Point or QiHai and the back lumbar point or the Ming Men.
In upcoming posts we are going to look at these lines and there utility individually.
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.
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.
Following on from the previous post we are now going to dig into the relevance of specific lines for internal arts movement, power and methods and we will start with perhaps the most important of all the lines the Axis.
The Axis can describe several things in the internal arts, from the conceptual ‘center line’, to the spine itself, to the tissues of the central channel of the body. All of these definitions have their place and purpose, however much of the time we see them intermingled or used in conjunction with each other. The process of producing the spine wave for instance is not solely a spine related endeavor, instead needing the action of the deep tissues of the torso in order to create the action. Rotation of the torso to equalize incoming forces does not only related to the turning of the body around a conceptual center line but also how the spine flexes and how the tissues twist during the demand.
The Side lines can be thought of as the support pillars of the body, they are like the towers of a suspension bridge providing a stable side to the body in the Coronal plane, but they actually have several active functions that are vital to the unified body.
One defining attribute of almost all high level martial artists is their ability to feel ‘Heavy’. Certainly, if you have ever interacted with high level grapplers you will have felt this attribute and boxers will often talk about a fighter ‘heavy hands’. But far from being a natural gift, this quality of ‘weight’ is a skill that can be trained and has implications for both the practitioners health as well as their combative potential.
In this article, we will explore some of the ways in which Internal Arts practitioners can create what I call the ‘Heavy Body’ attribute and how this translates into martial practices and health.
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.
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