Relaxation: Martial Arts professionals in progress
Speed and power. I hear a lot about speed and power in the martial arts. But the skilled martial artists who’ve been around a while don’t mention them so often. They more often speak about relaxation. How many times have you heard your instructor say, Relax! You need to relax. When I first started martial arts this concept was counter to my train of thought. “I want to hit hard!”. I must tense up and use all my muscles. That’s how I hit hard. What does he mean, ‘relax’. Over time, I began to realise that relaxation was important for the real generation of power. Then my response was, “What’s he mean, ‘relax’? I am relaxed!” Then I became aware of what I call proper relaxation. Proper relaxation is a key that unlocks many, many doors in the martial arts. Proper relaxation, like the true gem it is, is multifaceted.
Relaxation for Effective Speed
Effective speed is a by-product of timing and position. What do I mean by “effective speed?” Well, let’s take a race between a Ferrari and a Toyota Land cruiser. Obviously, the Ferrari is a faster vehicle. It has more potential speed. But what if the Land cruiser driver knows an off road shortcut and is able to beat the Ferrari to the finish line? By making use of his knowledge of the terrain and the attributes of his vehicle, his Land cruiser had more effective speed than the Ferrari in that race. Potential speed isn’t always the deciding factor. Effective speed is. Potential speed is just one of many tools. By understanding tools and using them to their fullest potential, we make those tools more effective. In martial arts, this is exemplified when a 25 year old black sash in peak physical condition spars an 80 year old master. The 25 year old probably has more potential speed. But he can’t touch the old man. The old man has more effective speed. The reason for this is the old man’s understanding and application of timing and position. Through proper use of timing and position, he can avoid getting hit and still land his own shots, while moving half as fast as the younger man. Since the younger man only felt the effects, he would likely finish the sparring match thinking, “Man, this old guy is fast!” Watching from the outside, though, it would be apparent that the old man isn’t really moving fast at all. He’s just making better use of his speed through timing and position. Economy and efficiency of motion, cutting lines of attack, and other such methods are some of the tools he uses to gain the advantage of timing and position.
Relaxation & Body Mechanics
Power is a by-product of body mechanics and proper physical relaxation (note: proper physical relaxation is only one aspect of the larger concept of proper relaxation). Body mechanics enable us to put as much mass behind our strikes as possible. This also includes such principles as “marriage of gravity.” Body mechanics means using the physical tools to their best advantage. Proper physical relaxation is part of body mechanics, too, but I separate it out because it is, in my opinion, the most difficult aspect to internalize. Proper physical relaxation doesn’t mean being a limp noodle, though that can have applications as well. But, generally, it means, tensing only what is required to accomplish the task at hand. So, for instance, let’s look at a basic straight punch. To extend your arm, your triceps have to contract and your biceps have to stretch. If you’re keeping unnecessary tension in your biceps, then you’re not allowing it to stretch naturally and, in turn, you’re slowing the acceleration of your punch and adding unnecessary fatigue to that muscle group; slowing the acceleration of your punch directly impacts the power of the punch. On the return, your biceps must contract while your triceps stretch. If you have unnecessary tension in your triceps then you are slowing down your retraction – in total opposition of the common “bring a strike back twice as fast as it goes out” principle. A blog on relaxation can’t provide a complete picture of these concepts and principles, but the above description is a thumbnail sketch of the underlying structures that support the generation of speed and power. But this sketch only outlines a couple of facets of what I mean by proper relaxation.
Relaxation & Awareness
The next facet is awareness. I’m referring to awareness of environmental hazards and useful tools, awareness of threats and potential threats, awareness of your balance and position, and that of your opponents and potential opponents. Once physical contact is established, it refers also to tactile awareness and sensitivity to your opponent. Once you are touching your opponent, you should be aware of where his body is and its position, without looking at him. Once you’re touching him, then you don’t need to look at him anymore. You “feel” where he is and his general position. You can tell what his basic position and movements are through the physical connection you have with him. And you know his intent; he’s trying to “take your head off”. So he’s a known factor. You can let your tactile awareness monitor him while you continue to attack him. Your eyes and other senses can then be used to monitor the unknown factors – such as the guy off to your left who may move in to join the fight, or he may pick up or draw a weapon. It also allows you to check for exits and opportunities to escape, which is always a good thing. All of these ideas, though, are facets of proper relaxation. Proper relaxation is the tie that binds all these elements together into a cohesive whole. These separate aspects must work in unison for any of them to be effective. Proper relaxation means, physically, tensing only what is necessary to accomplish the job at hand. But, beyond that, it means having a properly relaxed mind – focusing your attention directly on what requires its attention without taking away from your overall awareness of everything else. Proper physical relaxation and proper mental relaxation, as a team, form proper relaxation. Each martial art, in its own way, is designed to help its practitioners develop proper relaxation. A couple of good tools that I have found useful for developing this attribute are slow motion training and mental imagery. Slow motion training helps develop proper physical relaxation and mental imagery/ meditation helps develop proper mental relaxation. I think these training tools are overlooked by a lot of people in today’s “faster and harder” world of martial arts. Slow motion training and meditation are perceived by many people as “boring.” They’d rather spend all their time “slamming and jamming.” Now, please, don’t misunderstand me. I think “slamming and jamming” is important and vital if you ever intend to really be able to functionalize your martial arts. My point is that a lot of people get lost in that aspect of training. What they fail to realize is that the “boring” training can and will do as much to develop their attributes as the “slamming and jamming.”
Each type of training is just a tool for developing attributes. It’s possible to develop the attributes by using only one mode of training. But, in my opinion, it’s a slower process of training and, in the long run, the results won’t be as good. So, proper relaxation is our goal. Train hard, but train smart. Diversify your training to get the most out of your training time in the long run.
“A good martial artist does not become tense but ready. Not thinking yet not dreaming, ready for whatever may come. A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and face the consequences of his own doing. To have no technique, there is no opponent, because the word ‘I’ does not exist. When the opponent expands I contract and when he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, ‘I’ do not hit, ‘It’ hits all by itself.” — Bruce Lee
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