I would like to discuss more about how my body is changing due to the training I am doing in Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu. In this martial tradition there is a set of exercises called Nairiki no gyo. These exercises are supposedly descended from southern Chinese martial traditions. These exercises attempt to create a body that is "capable of unified, powerful and relaxed movement that also manifests an extremely expanded level of sensitivity." As quoted by Threadgill sensei.
Practitioners that develop this body skill to a high level can not only feel acutely into their own bodies but through a sensitive neuro-feedback network, they can also sense someone else's center of gravity the moment they are touched.
|Threadgill sensei demonstrating a connected body.|
In the above picture, Threadgill sensei is not leaning on his training partners, he is simply channelling the force through is body and into the ground. The two men might as well be pushing directly at the floor, they would get the same result. If the two men were to suddenly jump away, Threadgill would not fall over, but merely stand up a little straighter like a spring released.
There is a mental component to this as well. Intent is very important but after the physical skills are learned. Threadgill sensei says that after 20 years of training he can now think "right shoulder" and the adversary will fall right. This is a very advance mind-body connection. Everyone is capable of this sort of control. For instance, we do not think, pick up the spoon, we just pick up the spoon. Same thing but we are manipulating another person in doing so.
I like the word 'tone' in describing how my body is set up. Threadgill sensei used this term once on a forum and I find is fits perfectly. Without tone in my body, I can't begin to do some of things this training asks of me. In aikido I was always told to 'relax'. The problem with this direction is that I would relax ALL muscles involved and go sort of limp. This is the wrong idea, I think a better way of saying this would be to relax the unnecessary muscles and leave the others firing to generate the tone sensei talks about. I have spoken in the past about the posterior muscles playing an important part in this training. Without certain muscles firing we would have no structure at all. However, when only these muscles are firing, this sets up a body with sound structure that makes the most of the hips and legs in a unified manner. If you use your muscles in an isolated way, tone is going on and off and changing direction which leaves you open to counters. When I am training with someone and I take the role of uchitachi (uke) if I feel my training partner lose connection with me, I can re-establish control and counter-attack. At that point, he or she has lost the unified tone required and given me an opening and vice versa if I lose tone during a technique. A large part of our training these days is trying to perform the technique from start to finish with tone so that our opponent does not have a chance to get the upper-hand at any moment.
The extreme of this type of sensitive connection is using swords. If I touch my adversaries blade with my blade, and I do it with tone it gives me a connection to their entire structure without them knowing and I would have them from the beginning. This, however is beyond me at this stage. I find this very difficult.
Along with the Naikriki no gyo there are a series of kunren (drills) we do to help develop the budo body. Many involve another person providing resistance so we can work on channelling force through our structure while manipulating the other person.
So where am I with all this?
I would like to talk about the hara. This is difficult to discuss but I will try. Hara is a Japanese term describing an area just below the belly-button and is associated with esoteric things such as ki and life force etc. I will be using the term to describe a feeling I get in this area when I am moving with correct structure in my training and I feel my 'hara'.
My current understanding of what my hara is involves the muscles around the head of the femur, the pelvis area in general including the front and the back. When I am using my hara correctly I feel all my weight sitting in this area. As I manipulate incoming force it feels like I have a ball the size of an orange rotating and moving in this area, almost like a gyro. The challenge I have is to ensure tone throughout my body so that I get this heavy feeling in my hara. In fact when I nail it I feel the weight seep all the way into my feet and the ground. A very important part of this is the alignment of the spine. The spine must be correctly aligned to prevent 'kinks' that would cause a part of my body to be isolated and then prevent a unified structure. So this includes the angle of the pelvis, having the back straight and head pulled up. The spine is a chain of bones and this means it can take a while to find this position. Constant training allows you to feel the right position for your spine. In the resistance drills your partner slowly adds force and you will find very quickly if your alignment is out because you will not be able to withstand their force without exerting your own. This is the wrong thing to do.If you find yourself pushing back, this is incorrect.
The muscles around my shoulder girdle are thicker than they used to be and I think this is partly due to my poor shoulder alignment. Over the years I have learned to pull them back and down so they sit on the skeleton correctly. This has resulted in the muscles around this area strengthening to maintain this position. I have always had small shoulders with very flexible ligaments. This extreme flexibility has worked against me as this meant my shoulders were disconnected from the rest of my structure. In fact many of us have found that the shoulder joint is one area that becomes a 'choke point' when trying to establish connection. Through life-long habits we engage the deltoid muscles readily when they are not required in the exercise. This is one group of muscles that need to relax. They are unnecessary to the movement. When those muscles relax, the force can travel to the hara and be felt there.
Another area that I have developed is the cross-connection. The left hip moves the right shoulder or vice versa. This is useful in fooling your opponent in not knowing where the power of a technique is coming from. They expect the power to be coming from that arm, but the opposite hip (and leg) is powering it and they can't counter.
The more I train my budo body the more I am finding the alignment of the skeleton is important. The tone generated by the muscles is there to keep that alignment in place. There is much more I could talk about but I think that will do for now.