Sunday, January 25, 2015

The one-sided nature of martial arts training...What?

So I saw this line in a recent well-known magazine article suggesting a type of cross-training.
"it will remove the internal imbalances brought on by the one-sided nature of martial arts training"
This quote is referring to the physical part of martial arts training. So to avoid conflict or point fingers I am not going to tell you where the line comes from because that is not the point of this post. The point of the post is, however, to point out that if you are training in the martial arts and your training regime leads to this type of result, things being anatomically one-sided. You are doing it wrong!

Several of my instructors have taught me repeatedly about the need for balanced training across the Sagittal plane of the body. (This is the plane that divides us in half right down the middle.)

If we practice a punch from the left side, we in turn practice the same punch from the right side as well. If there is an imbalance on one side or the other we would also increase the number of repetitions on the weak side to get it "caught up". For a weak left side Gyaku Zuki or Reverse Punch for example, we perform 10 punches on the right during training and then 20 on the left side till we feel the imbalance is reduced.  internal feedback from the the coordination or power generation issues we were experiencing.

Imbalances in the body are normally not brought on by a good training program. There are many texts that discuss the positive effects of a good program on the body. When recruiting soldiers in Japan around the time of World War II the Japanese government noted the impressive symmetry of the Karateka they recruited from Okinawa. A symmetry that is not entirely natural in most people since we have a dominate side and favor it in daily life.

To fix this in training, a beginner should be able to rely on their instructor to point out imbalanced in the body during training. A good instructor will help their student balance those issues throughout training. Later on a more advanced student should be able to feel the difference during training. That may sound like hocus-pocus but if you have ever been involved in athletics of any kind you know what I am referring to here. It is a kind of internal feedback loop. You just know when something feels wrong. Even for an advanced student it is a good idea to occasionally seek feedback from an instructor or fellow student.

In the end, if this statement is even remotely true and you are training in a program that does have you training to imbalance, change it up. It is time to reorganize. I am a firm believer in cross-training  but it should be used to strength a good program. The difference put simply is this:

Good program is 1. Lets say that cross training is also a 1. That means that 1+1=2 and both programs are moving us forward toward being stronger overall.

Bad martial arts program is a -1 and then cross training is a 1 still. -1+1=0. We do not make much progress in a program that requires we add training to fix problems in other parts of our training.

For anyone who reads this, I don't want to know who does this so do not post names please but how common is this problem? Please feel free to add a comment if you have seen this or if this is a marketing gimmick to sell cross training programs.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Body Alignment

Controlling body alignment is a key tactic used in Aiki based arts. Proper body alignment includes a straight spine from tail bone to the crown of your head. It also includes keep both feet beneath you and in the case of the arts I study it means keeping your feet a bit wider than your shoulders. What this looks like and how to make this work effectively in motion is a constantly changing dynamic that takes time and practice. Suffice it to say, body alignment is very important.

Why is it important?

Ever try to walk or run with your head to one side? How about lift weights with your legs on an uneven surface? The problem with these things is that they may still be possible but they take a feat of extraordinary strength when having proper alignment makes the task much easier. The same is true of fighting. Punching, kicking, and grappling with an opponent is much simpler with alignment and rather difficult to make effective when not aligned.

The reason this information is important in a fight is because whether you use Aiki or another art. Maintaining your alignment and balance is as important as making sure your opposition cannot maintain their alignment.

We can affect improper alignment in someone by things as simple as adding a bit more weight than normal to one part of their body or by striking them in such a way as to mis-align there spine.

Manipulating a person's spinal alignment at either end is the ideal. Meaning controlling the head or and legs. In addition to being a good mental reboot. A punch to the head is a good way to put someone's head out of alignment. At the other end of the body, pressing a knee into someone's leg can force their leg straight or force them to move. Movement is by its very nature, less stable than an object that is static.

The next time you get some lab time in class or get to spar with an opponent. Especially you Karateka out there. See what techniques you can use to get someone out of alignment and therefore out of balance. The tools you have now work for this tactic. You need not learn any new special move. Find someone that will work with you and offer you reasonable and realistic resistance. See what you can come up with...

If you come up with any observations during training as a result of this post, comment them below. I would like to hear what you find.

Keep Training!


Monday, January 5, 2015

Wasted Energy

While studying the martial arts, one of the lessons I have learned and continue to work on improving revolves around the efficient use of energy. This lesson and my ultimate need to continue my work on this concept was impressed upon me many times over the years. Most recently working with Kris Wilder (a couple of years ago) and with a Wing Chun Sifu in Shanghai last year.

Not that I am necessarily performing poorly, only that I still have some fine tuning to do. Fine tuning my art is, after all, a lifelong pursuit. Anyway, this lesson has a lot involved in it so I want to sum it up and let you investigate on your own.

If you execute a punch. Any punch: front hand, back hand, straight, circular, etc... any motion that does not contribute to the energy delivered by the punch at the moment of contact with the target could be wasted. Or at least wasted in terms of not being applied to that punch.

Understand that there are techniques and tactics specifically designed to move in a manner that does not contribute directly to the force of a punch. If this is a conscious decision on the part of the artist that is fine. It may still deserve some investigation but at least it is not an unaccounted movement.

I know many practitioners of the arts that when they execute a punch will move their legs one direction or another where the resulting energy is not in line with the attack. Some do not even realize it is an issue. This is not criticism in the sense that I am placing myself above them. I find myself doing it too from time to time.

Note: Things get more complicated when we account for energy delivery in terms of linear (structural) versus rotational (torque) based. But that is information for another post..

Anyway, here is the test strikers. Execute a punch or a kick. Have someone help you or film yourself performing the techniques you have chosen. Watch to see if you body moves at a different angle to the attack. If so, you have some of your potential energy becoming kinetic in a way that might not be contributing to the total power you can generate.

Do your technique again. This time watch your hip level. Does it rise or fall when you execute? If so, again that is energy going up or down and not necessarily into the technique.

Without going into it too much. There are times where this "wasted" energy is not wrong. All I am asking is that you be aware of movement that is not helping you. If it does not add to the result you desire in your exchange then research needs to be done to determine its value. Might be something you need to train-out. Might also be a technique of which you were not yet aware.

I will try to include pictures in the future. When I am not in Korea and have more people around to help me demonstrate and take pictures. Train diligently!