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.
Linked to the last article, in this post we will be talking about how ‘mental preparation’ increases performance and how this is utilized by the Internal Arts. Most notably in the form of the intent training method called ‘Move before you move’.
There are several very well-known examples of mental preparation being used by elite level performers to increase their physical capability. Perhaps most strikingly this is seen in Olympic Weight Lifters who will often spend time behind the bar in deep focus and concentration, then time with their hands on the bar with a yet deeper level of focus before attempting and completing their lift. Indeed, we often hear of unsuccessful lifts that ‘His mind wasn’t there’ or ‘He lost his focus’ rather than ‘he wasn’t strong enough’.
We can’t really look at movement skills without talking about how movement complexity and capacity is handled by the brain and nervous system. It is our brains that give rise to our ability to move in complex ways and also our brains that allow us to retain good movement habits once they are learned.
Indeed, some people theorize that movement diversity is the reason for humans developing such large and complex brains.
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?
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.
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.
As described previously the out breath can have a direct impact on the state of relaxation in the body. The pressure changes that occur during breath release helps to lead tissue relaxation over time.
But there is also another useful part of the breath cycle we can utilize. This is the Inhalation phase.
We can actually use the 'in' breath and resultant increase in body pressure to 'pull' on stretched tissues to increase the potential conditioning and activation.
This idea is something often neglected in favor of out breath relaxation. Usually because, for this area of training to work correctly, the body needs to be very open and relaxed. But if performed correctly this method can be very powerful and deepen practices such as pulling silk.
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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