Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
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.
When we look at the connection through the back, it pretty much hinges on the location of the scapula. We deliberately train this area so that the most effective lines of force and groups of tissue can be developed or utilized.
If, for instance, the scapula ‘wings out’ away from the spine, the result can be that force entering the system gets ‘caught’ in the tissues that are stretched to wing the scapula out and through the back connection fails.
It is actually a trick I have seen internal adepts use to gain access to a partners frame, they will contact the arm, apply a force or direction, the shoulder will raise and scapula wing out and the partners entire structure crumbles as a result.
So, many practices have a focus on seating the scapular flat to the back and in towards the spine, stopping this winging action. One of these methods is body cross training, where the arms are held out to the sides of the body. In this method we pull the scapular in toward the spine as the hands rotate from facing down to facing forwards. Also traditional methods like Single whip can have this focus. A lot of work goes into this one process in order to create the right connections and allow through the back power to be utilized.
When next performing your method, if you don’t already, it may be worth looking into the position of the scapula when interacting with forces or expressing movements to see how this one area effects your overall connection.
As Bipeds we have extremely refined balance and proprioception systems keeping us upright. Most of the correction and balance maintenance systems work without conscious thought, they simple activate as and when they are required. This is, of course, how it should be! If our conscious mind was occupied with firing muscles to remain standing all the time we would have very little else we could achieve.
With that said, we can improve our ground connection by Increasing the sensitivity of our balance maintenance systems. The ankle and associated tissues are central to this work.
The ankle is what i describe as a control joint. It controls balance and weight distribution by articulating in association with weight shifts using the various muscles, tendons and tissues of the lower leg.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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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