Sunday, February 28, 2010

Martial Artists as Shapeshifters

    In terms of the body, the martial arts are a collection of postural forms designed to express physical energy in an intelligent way. This expression of energy can be utilized for many practical purposes, such as striking a target, throwing an opponent, or evading an attack. The martial forms themselves are nothing more than shapes, and these shapes can be regarded as tools. The ability to shape one's body into the appropriate tool at the appropriate time is the physical objective of the martial arts. 

   In order to accomplish this, it is important to possess both a geometrical understanding of the body, and a spacial understanding of the area the body can potentially occupy. 

    To understand the body geometrically, one should first be aware of the physical center point where the body's mass and balance naturally settles. This point is known as tantien in the Chinese arts, and hara in the Japanese arts. Awareness of this point is necessary because it is the origin of the shape the body assumes. The body itself can be envisioned as a vertical line that originates at the body's physical center. When standing at rest, this line runs up the spine through the headtop, and down the tailbone to the ground. 

   To understand the potential space the body can occupy, one should first envision a sphere whose radius originates at the body's origin, its physical center. If circumstances demand occupation outside this sphere, then the origin of the sphere must be repositioned to accommodate. Now, the line that represents the body can bow or hinge to shape new tools within the sphere. However, to maintain structural integrity and unification, there are two requirements that must be maintained: The first is that one's shape must either move from its origin or around around its origin; the second is that every point on the line that represents the body must be contiguously connected to the origin. If either of these requirements falter, then the form suffers disorganization, and effectiveness of the body as a tool diminishes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Upright Posture in the Martial Arts

An upright posture is important in the martial arts for four reasons, specifically:
1)  it unifies the upper body with the lower body, so that the entire body has a single center of balance. 
2)  it places the upper body upon the lower body, so that there is a base from which to generate power
3) it defines a vertical axis around which the entire body can rotate strongly
4) it positions the skeleton and organs in natural alignment, promoting proper breathing healthy structure

In the Japanese Martial arts, the basic natural posture is called shizentai. The general requirements of shizentai are:
• the head is held erect and the chin is slightly tucked
• the shoulders are above the hips and pulled back and down
• the chest is relaxed and neither puffed forward or arched backward
• the hips are forward and the tailbone is not stuck out
• the knees are comfortably bent 
• the feet are shoulder-width apart, and the toes point forward
• the soles are flat, and the weight of the body is supported above the toes (meaning that the heals can lift off the ground, the toes cannot)

The two variations of shizentai are known as migi shizentai, when the right foot is forward, and hidari shizentai, when the left foot is forward.

Parallels can be drawn from the upright standing postures to the upright kneeling postures, which are appropriate in occasions such as seated iaido forms and newaza in judo and jujutsu. 

When kneeling, basic natural posture becomes seiza, or correct sitting. Migi shizentai becomes migi tatehiza, which is seiza with the right knee up, and hidari shizentai becomes hidari tatehiza, which is seiza with the left knee up. 

The postural requirements of the kneeling forms are exactly the same as the standing forms, with the exception that in the kneeling forms one or both legs are tucked beneath the hips.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moon on Water

One night in the Spring I balanced on the rail of the deck overlooking the lake at my parent's house. This is good training, especially for Hsing I or Iaido, because the narrow ledge requires a stance less than shoulder-width apart, and such a restriction encourages the retention of an upright posture and the maintenance of the physical center. 

I paced back and forth on the narrow ledge, moving one foot and then the other, yielding one posture that lead to another, while at my side was a four foot drop to the wooden deck below. This, of course, is not so bad, although to my other side, the distance to the beach was twice that. There would be bushes to negotiate if I took that route, but I am also a Judo man, so the prospect of falling did not intimidate me; and there may have been wine involved, inhibiting those areas of the brain sensitive to trepidation.

But, these details are inconsequential. The significance of the story came to pass as I balanced on the edge of the rail and glanced toward the lake. The moon was full and very bright, hovering above the treetops. A ghost-white line of undulating light ran across the water's surface directly toward where I stood. 

I remember feeling a sense of reality and surprise, because it seemed my random forms had lead me to the perfect spot: That by mere accident, I had landed within the gaze of the moon. 

I honored the moment by facing the lake and closing my eyes, breathing deeply into the lower abdomen, and standing still. Thoughts were initially consumed by balance, because balance tends to falter when the eyes are closed. Then, thoughts were consumed by relaxation, of "having the feeling of being shaped by gravity," as one of my teachers often says. Then, for an undetermined interval, I didn't think. 

This interval was not long. I opened my eyes, and the moon and the moonlight still wandered my way. Training resumed: back and forth on the narrow ledge, moving one foot and then the other, yielding one posture that lead to another, when once again I glanced toward the lake and saw that the moon had followed me — and if slid left or sidled right, the moonlight on the lake made a beeline my way. 

I remember feeling a sense of foolishness, because this is the nature of reflection. My random forms did not place me in line with the moonlight; the moonlight had always been aligned with me. 

I honored the moment without breaking stride — back and forth on the narrow ledge, moving one foot and then the other, yielding one posture that lead to another, thinking:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Maneuver in Grappling and Tree Climbing

Maneuver in ne waza (ground grappling) in Judo and Jujutsu is very similar to climbing a tree. 

In both cases, your grip is very important, so it is vital to be aware of your physical center and its position relative to that which you take hold. The closer the physical center is to what you're holding, the more secure your position, and the stronger you are.  

In climbing and in grappling, it is important to fasten to as many points of contact as possible. I don't just mean with the hands and feet: you want chest contact, hip contact, and to be able to make use of as much of the surface area of the body as possible. Holding a tree trunk with your legs is no different than holding an opponent's trunk to lock him in guard; hugging a tree limb is no different than hugging an opponent's limb to reverse. 

But don't get confused and reverse a tree limb. Such a tactic is not a good idea, as it greatly increases the potential of a counterattack from the ground.

Of course in grappling, the ground is your friend, because it graciously impedes the opponent's movement. Even so, when you reposition, you must do so one limb at a time, invading incrementally and systematically, so that your position is always superior to your opponent's. Any negligence in your position is a potential opportunity for the opponent to reorganize. If the opponent seizes this opportunity, you will have to scramble, and a scramble is always risky, because its outcome is unclear. In a friendly match it's no big deal, but if in serious conflict or forty feet above the ground, uncertainty should be avoided whenever possible. 

Thus, position is the key requirement here. The fundamental concept in climbing and grappling is that, above all else, you must always maintain a strong and secure position. If your position becomes compromised, then you must backtrack and seek an alternate route. If you cannot do this, then you are in danger.