Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Whole body power forms the bedrock of the internal arts. Our abilities to move every part of our body in harmony is as fundamental to the health benefits as it is to the martial effectiveness found in these styles. In this article we will explore one aspect of this whole body work, which I call the attribution of effort technique.
When we move without competence or in a segmented way, we will often leave certain areas of the body uninvolved in the movement. As the arms are raise the hands may remain floppy or ‘dead’ as my Taiji Teacher would say, as we step the foot may simply hang from the leg. These are common occurrences in the untrained and disconnected body and a quick scan around the room in any Tai chi class will highlight them.
However, with training these natural habits do not persists and instead when we raise our arms our hands are completely involved in the act, or if we step, our foot is alive, searching for the floor. This change is the result of training to be aware of the required spread of effort throughout the body.
One of the ways in which we can bring harmony to the body is to look at the attribution of effort that a given movement requires. The is a very difficult process initially but soon becomes second nature with dedicated training. But what does it mean to become aware of the attribution of effort?
The ‘percentage’ method.
One way in which we can visualise this idea is by feeling the percentage of total effort your various body parts undertake as you move through a motion. I highlight the word feeling here because although I will talk about real percentages in a moment, we are actually talking about a type of awareness of effort, rather than any real calculations (so you can put your calculators away)!
In this method we scan the body with our mind and feel how much effort the body parts require to perform the action. Initially we can start with the big segments, the torso, the arms and the legs. But eventually we can do this to a very small level, looking at the joints of the fingers or toes for example.
During this work, you may perceive that, as the arms raise only the back, shoulders and arms are working. But, with further scanning, you begin to perceive the effort to extend the wrist or open the fingers. All of the body parts have their little percentage to play of the total load.
So we could say that the legs are 40%, the aligned torso 40% and the arms themselves 20%. This is a very simple split. We could in fact go further.
feet 10%, Lower Leg 10%, Upper Leg & buttock 20%,
Lower abdomen 20% Chest 10% upper back 10%
Upper arms 10% lower Arm 6%. Hands 4%
Far from an exercise in maths however, this is an exercise in microscopic awareness. When we scan the whole body from the tips of the toes, to the top of the head we actually make the whole body engage and come to life. It is very hard to identify the % of effort of a limb or finger if they are not active or involved for instance.
To do this we must first stand extremely still as we wake up the mind to the major parts of the body, then zoom in to the smaller areas like the fingers. Without acute awareness of our body when still, it is impossible to be aware of the requirements when it is in motion. As we move, it must be painstakingly slow to really feel and understand the loads and requirements placed on the frame.
Awareness giving rise to natural connection
So, we can recognise the efforts required across the body units. We can use our minds to truly feel how much strength is needed in the little finger when compared to the arm for instance. This is the stage at which true formation of a ‘whole body’ starts to present itself and a state in which movement unity must occur. It is simply impossible to maintain this level of awareness and be segmented in your motion.
Eventually, over time the extreme focus required to maintain the associations in the body fades and the body simply remembers the amount of ‘effort’ it needs in every limb, joint or length during complex motions.
The training will always remain a very slow affair, it is the nature of this advanced method of connection and awareness, but the training will ‘burn in’ the innate body skill that the movements will always maintain correct attribution of effort.
Give this method a try, it will be very slow, but very fruitful I am sure.
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At its most basic level the cross body connection allows us to actively utilize the opposite sides of the body in harmony with each other. If you think about someone walking naturally, swinging their arm forward as the opposite leg is forward, this is a classic example of this cross body connection in use. But this attribute of body motion and the associated tissues has a deeper reaching consequence for the internal artist.
In this method we use the front and back of the Lower Dan Tien or Taren, in harmony with one another. It is this complimentary harmony of opposites, a pair of actions happening simultaneously but in opposition that gives this method its name. It is not a singular direction or motion but a 'Pair' of actions creating 'one' result. The Ming Men and Qi hai are the origination and termination points for the harmonized opening and closing in of the torso we will talk about in this post.
In Traditional Chinese theory there is a point in the middle of the lumbar region of back that is believed to be the centre of ‘Vitality’ and where the original life essence of the individual is based, this point is called the ‘Ming Men’.
Located at between the L2 & L3 vertebra, a couple of inches above the line of the Iliac crest in most people, this point is of foundational importance to Chinese Medicine and their associated practices. It is thought to be responsible for ‘warmth’ in the body, for fuelling correct metabolic action and organ function in these traditional systems.
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.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the beginner of internal training is their ability to relax. Often they will be unable to even lift their arm without building isolation tension in the shoulder, and no matter how hard they ‘try’ they simply don’t have the control to relax specific muscles or areas of tension. In these cases a coach or teacher will often instruct the pupil to use their exhalation as a tool to guide the relaxation of the body.
In the internal arts one of the main focus’ of training is to obtain a type of equilibrium. Indeed, in previous posts I have discussed the utilization of opposites in the body to ensure that, even during motion, this equilibrium and balance is maintained. But in this post I would like to look at a specific method that falls outside of the equilibrium idea. It is the idea of using postures with a bias in a certain direction, or a seemingly un-even position in order to heal or ‘equalize’ a practitioner. I call this process, utilizing postural bias.
We have seen in previous posts how the use of equal and opposite action within the body can be used in the process I call ‘pairing’. But why then, even in my own system, do we sometimes see postures where there is a clear bias in a certain direction and what does the term ‘Postural Bias’ actually mean?
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