Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
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.
So fundamentally the tissues of the axis can be thought of as the ‘Deep front line’ and the ‘Superficial front and back lines’ found in the Anatomy trains work, but more specifically the proportion of these lines that run from the Femur to the skull, (slightly different to the lines highlighted in that work that largely run form the foot to the skull).
The deep front line can be thought to constitute a proportion of the ‘core’ (for want of a better phrase) but specific to Internal Arts it actually constitutes some of the tissues of the Lower Dan Tien. Among them are the Levator Ani, the Illiacus, Psoas, internal Obturator etc. From here the deep front line tracks up the body connecting to the Skull.
The Superficial front and back lines are perhaps the most important to the concept of ‘pairing’ (which we will investigate further shortly) in the body and the connection of the arms to the torso. The superficial front line runs from the Abductor Langus (which is a major part of the Crotch Arch or ‘Dang Jin’ in the internal arts) via the Rectus Abdominism, up to the Pectoralis. The Superficial back line runs from the Glutes through the Lumbosacral fascia and Erector Spinae and the Lats.
You can see the superficial lines in use when someone Slams a medicine ball into the floor or chops wood with an axe. These flexion and extension movements are patterns that we see in many different tasks, however, the internal arts approach movement in a distinct way and that is what we will explore in this post. The internal arts motions related to the axis.
Utilizing the maximum tissue for the given action
Firstly we can say that the development of the tissues off the axis and using them in combination, allows us to generate larger forces that the segmented approach. When we have spent a large amount of time on the development of this tissue through specialized training, we naturally can recruit larger volumes of generating tissue, both Fascia and Muscle, for any given action. The net result is a larger power output for a given distance of travel. We move away from the Mass X Velocity mode of power due to the addition of elastic, rotational and recoil forces in the actions (I will explore this interesting point in a later post). This is further bolstered by a unique way of using the body I call ‘pairing’.
Paired opposites opening and closing
One of the most interesting uses of the Axis that we see in internal arts adepts is the paired opposite action between the front and back sides. This can sound complicated, indeed actually making this movement and action a natural part of your motion is a long and exacting process, but the concept is fairly simple to grasp.
Imagine if you will the person chopping wood with an Axe and how their body bows over as power for the chop is generated and their action is directed forward. This would be an example of ‘single sided’ force generation and the type of power we witness in numerous martial techniques. The focus of contraction is on the front side of the body in the superficial front line. After extension, the person will contract the front of the body to generate maximum directional force.
Pairing in the body is a different to this action in a couple of very interesting ways. Firstly, we do not commit our mass to a direction as seen in the method above, so there is nothing for the opponent to exploit. This is very important to the grappler especially in that committing force in a direction can very easily be used against them. Secondly, the action in the superficial front line is married to an equal and opposite action in the superficial back line to create equilibrium.
When we use equal opposites in the Axis we are able to generate huge volumes of force without committing mass in a specific direction. The simultaneous opening of the back and closing of the front creates a type of dynamic balance, even though there is very strong movement within this balance. This is the very real physical manifestation of the concept of Yin & Yang in harmony and is something that we witness in many of the spine bowing methods of the internal arts. Some of the arts like the Old Dai family style of Xin Yi really utilize this work, in combination with stepping, to produce some of the most powerful forces in the martial arts.
Leading on from this work is how we link this harmony of action in the axis with rotation to create simultaneous rising and sinking spirals in the body. These spirals make it extremely hard for the partner to feel your center and are something we witness in the highest level Aiki experts and Taiji masters. It is the combination of the balanced opposite forces in the body, combined with utilizing the Spiral Line and the hip Kwa that make this sort of highly unusual movement possible.
So the work of the axis is capable of transforming the motion, power and capability of the individual when used in an internal arts pattern.
But it all begins with the development of the connections in the tissue themselves for without this you simply cannot perform the actions with accuracy in a natural way. The development of these tissue lines can be seen in many different traditional methods, from the old Nei Gong Systems to modern arts like Aunkai. All of the internal training methods have some sort of body focused method to make sure this vital part of the system is running on full steam!
Click here for information on training the Axis from IPT
'Softening training' is something we encounter a lot in the internal arts, indeed these arts are sometimes called ‘soft arts’. But what is the practical utility of softening practices and why do we need to perform them?
Well there are 4 big reasons for using soft work for internal power development. These are related to the joints, the alignments, the fascia and the nervous system.
Lets Look at these primary problem areas that many softening exercises address.
Intent (as we mean it in this training) is the link between the minds thought to act and the bodies resulting action. Although ever present, there are several ways we can train this link to make it stronger, faster and more direct.
One way is the exercise of - ’move before you move’. When standing in a specific position we can REALLY try to reach into the distance with our posture. That is to say our mind is telling our body that we are really going to begin moving that direction at any second.
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.
In the last few articles we have looked at ‘Intent’ and its physiology as it relates to the internal arts, so in this article I will provide a couple of practical ways in which we can practice following the line of our intent to improve our movement.
There is a saying in the internal arts that one ‘follows the line of intent’, this is the process of moving in accordance with our will to act using the Intent as the link between the mind and the motion. But there is more to this concept than simply following how we would like to move.
The Internal Arts are perhaps best separated from their more externally focused brethren by the softening practices of its practitioners.
This focus on 'softness' or on training relaxation, 'sung' or releasing can sometimes actually become the sole priority of some internal arts styles and practitioners. But there are, in fact, many methods that require a cycle of 'hard' and 'soft' training to achieve their goals. Primarily those related to training connection and elastic recoil qualities.
It is through targeted loading (with or without applied weight), 'wound' isometric holds and other specific practices (which involve some degree 'hardness') that we are able to condition certain tissues so that they become more elastic, springy and strong. These tissues are the connective tissues of the body, the tendons, ligaments and other types of material generally lumped into tissues known as fascia.
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.
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