Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
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.
Firstly, When rounding the back be careful of collapsing the chest constricting the heart and lungs. This is actually often seen in some Tai Chi systems where the phrase, ‘hollow the chest’ has been misinterpreted by some teachers as ‘collapse the chest’. The chest should be hollow like a Barrel rather than sunk inwards like a dish.
But more over the setting of the spine in this position causes a couple of issues over time when mobility is not maintained. Firstly older practitioners start to exhibit a Kyphotic spine, with the upper back humping out and a kink appearing at the juncture with the cervical spine. This is sometimes called the disease of Tai Chi as so many older practitioners seem to exhibit it in some styles.
Secondly. the practitioner’s stability is focused in the forward direction and any external pressures from the sides or back can cause the structure to fail. This is actually something Ba Gua takes advantage of by attacking the side and back gates of the opponent, hence all the stepping and turning in the style.
Rounding the back is a trade off of attributes; it is extremely strong in the forward direction, but lacks the all round stability of the flattened scapular and centred shoulder.
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 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.
In some traditions there is a model used for ground contact sensitivity call the 9 points of the feet. This model is very useful for grounding or root training and forms part of the method to increase our Stability. Stability is a fundamental quality for the internal artists, even when stepping and moving very quickly. This is a model we find in systems where students may be required to perform static single leg standing postures or where rooting is a large factor in the styles outlook.
In it we identify the 9 major contact points of the foot and bring our awareness into these areas so as to acutely recognise weight distribution.
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.
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.
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