How To Avoid Being Clumsy
It was one of those nights that you could feel the testosterone in the air…
We had started by hitting pads, with the pad holder using front punch, cross punch, hook punch, front kick and round kick angles at random. We then changed distance and angle so that the hitter had to move, gauging distance and angle to get the best hit. Then the pad holder started ‘paying’ the hitter when he couldn’t get back to a guard position in time by tapping him on the head with the pad.
Then it went ‘freestyle’ and became quite frantic at times with some not so good strikes coming in as the distance and movement threw judgement out. Sensei moved through a few pad holders as we frequently changed partners but seemed to move effortlessly, always hitting the pads with precision and power leaving ‘knuckle dents’ in the centre of the pad and getting a wince of pain from the holder as he managed to focus his blows on the pads as opposed to ‘pushing’ them.
Eventually the sweat drenched masses hit themselves to a standstill and had to stop for a fluid break….
“How come you always seem to move so easily, carry so much power and seem to be in the right place at the right time?” asked an aggravated brown belt.
“Because my mind permeates all of my body” said sensei, then after a moments pause, he looked thoughtful and added “or maybe my body is inside my mind…..”
“Erm…. is that the same thing?”
Sensei looked thoughtful… “I guess so…”
“So how do we get our mind to permeate the entire body, or the other thingy…..”
Sensei looked around at all the other attentive students and decided the question required a full answer. “Okay… sit down, but cover up to keep warm and stretch while I talk.
When we are babies, we spend much of our time exploring our body, moving our hands and feet in wonder as we gradually learn to appreciate that each part can be controlled by our mind. As we get older, we take our body for granted and lose that ‘special’ sense of touch that we have as a child. Gradually the mind/body link gets lost as our mind develops and is consumed by other things.
When we start studying the Martial Arts we seek to regain that link from an adult perspective. We systematically work through the body with our mind, mentally ‘shaking hands’ with every body part.
“What EVERY body part?” asked our cheeky brown belt.
“Just don’t shake hands with some parts too hard, or you may damage yourself….” replied sensei humorously. Seriously though, we need to know the feeling of all our body and then develop the various coordinative skills required for martial arts practice.
Our mind plays a key role and we have to ‘sensitise’ it to be able to do this task. Our everyday mind is too coarse, it’s distracted into the past and projected into the future, linked to all kinds of emotions and needs to be cleared, cleansed, and made bright and attentive. We need to find the awe of our body that we had as a child and combine it with the skilful and complex signalling that produces martial skill. This takes time and practice.
As the mind permeates the body, the key to efficient, powerful movement is softness. This can be a really hard idea for western beginners to absorb, we are so used to working hard and having the exercise and the ‘no pain no gain’ ethic drummed into us, the idea of ‘softening to move’ and to allow the mind to permeate the body is contrary to everything we’ve done in the past.
‘Softening’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘relaxing’ as posture and mental alertness must remain sharp for the mind to be aware and suffused throughout the entire body thus giving us a good spatial understanding of where it is in space and the capacity to be able to move directly instead of being inert.
Power comes from efficient use of the body. Tension acts like a brake and prevents fluidity. It can also be a result of bad posture, with the muscles struggling to pull the body straight or as a result of emotion and mental trauma; this is why the combination of good posture, good breathing, mental alertness and focus can help to release it and clear the mind.”
“Can our mind REALLY travel through the body though?”
“Can you feel your toes and fingers?”
“Then it must do mustn’t it?”
“I guess so….”
“The Chinese say that where your yi goes your chi follows, meaning that where your intention goes, your internal energy follows. This means that if your mind, or your intention can permeate the entire body, it is filled with an ‘armour’ of internal energy and the capability for instantaneous, powerful, coordinated movement. You will always be aware of your balance and postural frame in movement.”
“The problem is that the harder I try, the worse I get… I just seem to move like a klutz!”
“Another saying is that ‘the idea becomes action’ in other words, we hold the idea and the body, not the mind does the work. Mental ‘trying’ makes it worse, but if you dispassionately hold the idea in your mind and just practice, the skill permeates by absorption.”
“But what happens if it doesn’t?”
“Then you interfered with the mind, you were impatient. It takes as long as it takes, just leave it in your brain and allow it to happen, the paradox is that the more you leave it – the faster it works! Frustration is one of our biggest enemies.
A good martial art works systematically through the body getting it in touch with the mind and forging a set of skill ‘signals’ that it will respond to. It works on postural alignment to allow free access to the mind and energy, with good breathing it animates the mind and energy and then disciplines and gathers it by linking it to the breath and eventually separating them so that energy can be sent independently to any part of the body.
This engenders good health, a calm mind and body with a set of skilful responses that allows you to move unhindered in a powerful way.”
“How long will that takes us sensei?”
Sensei smiled – “as long as it takes Grasshopper……”